THE MENENDEZ TRIAL: Walls Tells Lowell He Won’t Permit ‘Waste of Time’

NEWARK – Defense witnesses in the corruption trial of Sen. Bob Menendez sparred with prosecutors over the meaning of separate lines and sometimes individual words of an email during testimony this morning and early afternoon.

As the defense attempts to portray Menendez’s interest in issues supposedly raised by his friend and co-defendant Dr. Salomon Melgen’s perils as broad and benign, a troupe of witnesses has gone in and out of the courtroom with differing versions of events.
 
But what could have been a more complete defense rebuttal to events was shot down by Judge William Walls, who ruled that contemporaneous notes taken by a Menendez staffer of a key 2012 meeting with then- Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius would not be allowed into evidence.
 

“You continue to try and bring in every detail of this meeting,” Walls told Menendez attorney Abbe Lowell. “I’m not going to permit it because it’s a waste of time as far as I’m concerned.”

 
Lowell countered he wanted the notes admitted because they would show unspecified contradictions in Sebelius’ testimony earlier in the trial.
 
“I’m sure the jury can tell you in their sleep the issues of Lucentis and multi-dosing and what has been said by the various parties,” Walls said.
 
The judge, who had hoped to keep the lagging trial at a steady pace since Day 1, said he refused to sit “listening to a detailed explanation of this meeting for the fifteenth time.”
 
Walls’ quips caused an awkward courtroom moment this morning when he referred to a dispute between prosecution and defense lawyers, both female, as a “hen party.” The judge, who is 84 years old, had previously told a male defense lawyer to “shut up” and made the male lead lawyer for the Justice Department repeat phrases back to him.
 
Michael Barnard, who began work as a legislative assistant for Menendez in 2011, took notes in the Sebelius meeting and on a conference call with Medicare official Marilyn Tavenner.
 
He said Menendez was interested in multi-dosing, where a doctor can utilize extra medicine in a vial to squeeze out additional doses, partially because Medicare wastes money by prohibiting the practice.
 

“It leads to a lot of waste in medicine that is tossed out because of it,” Barnard said.

 
Jodi Herman, a senior policy adviser who worked for Menendez when the senator made inquiries about port security in the Dominican Republic, similarly testified Menendez was concerned about smuggling in the Caribbean.
 
In fact, Menendez held a hearing in his Senate Foreign Affairs subcommittee titled “Trafficking Routes of South America Through the Caribbean,” Herman said.
 
Though Menendez sought a meeting with Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield after returning from one of his Dominican trips with Melgen, Herman said she did not immediately know what the senator wanted to discuss.
 
“I think I just needed more information from him than ‘I want to talk about the Dominican Republic,'” Herman testified.
 
In fact, her May 10, 2012 email asking for the meeting expressed Menendez’s continuing concern “about what is flowing through the ports either unobserved or with tacit permission.”
 
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