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Jefferson’s Judge Keeps Things Moving

Opening arguments start today in the federal criminal trial of former congressman William Jefferson for corruption and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. During three days of jury selection last week, the tone from the bench was strictly no-nonsense. A Louisiana TV station carried this revealing report:

One potential juror who was interviewed told the court she believed “large sums of money in a freezer is odd.” Jefferson’s Defense Attorney Robert Trout, moved to strike that juror, but Judge T.S. Ellis denied the request, saying the juror’s opinion does not presume guilt or innocence.

Later Trout requested the judge to ask potential jurors if they’re addicted to websites like Facebook and Twitter or online blogs. The judge once again denied the request, saying “I think it’s a silly question, it’s like asking people, ‘do you use a phone?’”

Trout also requested that the judge ask potential jurors whether a congressman can be effective while on private business deals. Ellis denied the request, saying he is not going to start trying the case during jury selection. . . .

Who’s that judge? He’s Thomas Selby (“T.S.”) Ellis III, 69, (Princeton BSE, Harvard JD), a former Naval aviator and hard-charging litigator from Hunton & Williams. He was nominated to the bench by Ronald Reagan and began serving in 1987. He assumed senior status in April 2007 but still hears cases in both the Eastern and Western Districts of Virginia. And he sometimes sits by designation on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

The government told Judge Ellis last week that its key witness, Lori Mody, isn’t likely to testify unless she’s needed for rebuttal. Her complaints to authorities first triggered the investigation into Jefferson. The $90,000 in marked bills found in his freezer came from her. She also made secret recordings of some of their conversations. Those tapes will still be admissible at the trial, along with evidence about the cash in the freezer.

Bruce Alpert at The Times Picayune polled a few former federal prosecutors. They think the government’s case isn’t airtight. Mody’s absence hurts. And Jefferson wasn’t always explicit in their taped conversations. His lawyers will also argue that his public role and private acts should be viewed separately. The cash in the freezer? Explaining it is Jefferson’s biggest problem. Still, according to Alpert’s unscientific results, the most likely outcome is a hung jury. His story is here.

Read all our posts about William Jefferson here.
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