Menendez judge to rule on defense mistrial motion

Defense attorneys for U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez and a wealthy friend have accused the judge in their bribery trial of not letting them present evidence and witnesses to prove their case.

They filed a mistrial motion on Sunday. It alleges that U.S. District Judge William Walls abused his discretion by not letting jurors see certain evidence the attorneys say would contradict the prosecution's contentions.

Walls could rule on the motion on Monday. The defense is expected to rest its case this week, after which jurors would hear closing arguments.

Sunday's filing alleged that Walls' rulings have "deprived Defendants of their Fifth and Sixth Amendments rights to a fair trial, to an adequate defense, and to confront the witnesses against them."

Walls already has denied previous motions to have the case thrown out, most recently two weeks ago when defense attorneys alleged prosecutors hadn't proved evidence of bribery under a narrowed definition of the crime stemming from a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year.

Menendez is charged with accepting free flights on a private jet and other gifts from Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen in exchange for political influence. One of the central charges is that Menendez pressured executive branch officials to try and resolve an $8.9 million Medicare reimbursement dispute Melgen was embroiled in.

Both men have denied any such arrangement.

In Sunday's filing, attorneys wrote that they should have been allowed to introduce information, including a document from the official Medicare website, that would have buttressed their contention that Menendez's meetings with health officials were focused on confusing and inconsistent Medicare reimbursement policies, and not on Melgen's specific case as the indictment alleges.

They also contend Walls should have allowed testimony from Marc Elias, an attorney who represented Menendez in late 2012 and early 2013 when Menendez was being investigated by a Senate ethics committee over the flights on Melgen's plane.

Elias, who was scheduled to testify Thursday but didn't, would have told jurors he sent a letter to ethics investigators saying the flights were being reviewed — a point defense attorneys say could cast doubt on the prosecution's theory that Menendez was trying to conceal his involvement with Melgen.

In contrast, defense attorneys said in court on Thursday that Walls allowed prosecutors to present evidence including pictures of a luxury hotel where Menendez stayed in Paris that was allegedly part of the bribery scheme, and testimony from the manager of the Dominican Republic resort — where Menendez visited Melgen — about the resort's various amenities.

The trial is entering its ninth week. Defense attorneys have clashed with Walls repeatedly over his limiting of some of their questioning of witnesses and his rulings on what evidence they can present.

In Sunday's filing they referred to an offhand comment Walls made at the end of Thursday's hearing.

"Defendants' concerns are typified by the Court's parting words at the hearing: 'Life is not fair and so too is judicial discretion,'" they wrote. "Despite the light-hearted nature of the Court's comment, the fact remains that judicial discretion must be exercised fairly, otherwise, by definition, it is an abuse of discretion."

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