Judge denies Menendez mistrial request

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Attorneys for Sen. Robert Menendez (pictured) and Salomon Melgen had charged that Walls kept them from introducing evidence and key witnesses, depriving them of giving a fair defense. | Julio Cortez/AP

A federal judge has refused to declare a mistrial in the corruption case against U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez and co-defendant Salomon Melgen.

“The defense wants to spend morning, noon and night discussing the contracts in each case, the issue of multiple dosages and the issue of scanning with regard to the security contract with regard to the port in the Dominican Republic,” U.S. District Court Judge William H. Walls said. “It’s a question for this court to determine when enough of enough. It’s not a question that the court interferes with your presentation of the defense. Absolutely not.”

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Attorneys for Menendez and Melgen had charged that Walls kept them from introducing evidence and key witnesses, depriving them of giving a fair defense. Menendez is charged with helping Melgen in a $8.9 million Medicare dispute, a Dominican port security dispute and securing visas for his foreign girlfriends in exchange for gifts including hotel rooms, private jet flights and around $750,000 in political contributions.

The surprise motion for a mistrial came Thursday, after Walls refused to let the defense call its final witness, attorney Marc Elias. Lawyers for Menendez and Melgen wanted Elias to talk about data gathering on flights Menendez took on Melgen’s private jet — part of what prosecutors charge was a bribery scheme — in response to an inquiry from the Senate’s ethics committee. The defense had sought to show that Menendez did not intentionally hide the number of flights he took but Walls wouldn’t allow it.

Walls also stopped the defense from calling employee of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services as a witness to testify about confusion around its policy on “multi-dosing” drugs — something Melgen allegedly did to over-bill Medicare.

“For the defendants to feel as though their rights have been for the exclusion of a woman whose name I can’t remember right now — it causes me to lose any respect I have for your judgement as far as remaining legal challenges to what I do,” Walls said.

The defense insisted that prosecutors had been able to tell their story, but that prosecutors and Walls kept the defense from asking questions and introducing documents that would speak to the defendants motive and intent.

“We don’t take this kind of motion lightly and we don’t raise it for dramatic effect. We do it because we feel stifled,” Menendez attorney Abbe Lowell said.

Lead prosecutor Peter Koski said the defense was lashing out, saying that before the trial started Menendez blamed the Cuban government, President Obama and Republican operative Rogers stone for his troubles. Now, he said, they’ve blamed Menendez’s own staffers, the prosecution and Walls.

“The defendants are unwilling to accept responsibility for their conduct and this motion is more evidence of that,” Koski said.

Koski said the defense “grossly mischaracterizes the record in the effort to generate a public narrative that they’re not getting a fair trial.”

Walls’ decision was expected, but the defense appears to be laying the groundwork for an appeal should Menendez and Melgen be convicted. The defense is expected to rest today — the start of the trial’s ninth week.

Walls also slammed the defense for claiming that he should have punished one of the prosecutors for asking a “throw-away” question that she knew would not be allowed, but was intended to make a point.

“I’ve never heard a more silly objection. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, bring in a firing squad?” he said.

Walls also denied the defense’s motion that he reconsider some of his decisions to exclude evidence, allowing them to present it.



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