Judge slams Menendez request to alter trial schedule for 'critical' votes in DC

Story highlights

  • Menendez's trial is scheduled to begin on September 6
  • He, along with his co-defendant, face 18 counts of fraud and bribery charges. Both have pleaded not guilty.

(CNN)The federal judge overseeing Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez's upcoming corruption trial rejected the New Jersey senator's request to modify the upcoming trial schedule so that he may return to Washington for "critical votes."

Last week, Menendez's defense team filed a motion asking the court to modify the trial schedule to allow the senator to participate in key votes as needed, including on the future of the Affordable Care Act -- raising a concern the jury would draw a negative inference from his absence.
But US District Court Judge William H. Walls, in a sternly worded 12-page opinion, had no part of it.
    "The court suspects that the trial strategy behind this motion, if granted, would be to impress the jurors with the public importance of the defendant senator and his duties," wrote Walls in the opinion published Friday. "No other plausible reason comes to mind. ... Defendant Menendez, granted, as are all defendants, with the presumption of innocence, need not appear in court if he does not wish or wants to be absent. He may voluntarily absent himself. This is his prerogative."
    Menendez's trial is scheduled to begin on September 6. He, along with his co-defendant, Florida-based ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen, face 18 counts of fraud and bribery charges. Both have pleaded not guilty.
    The judge noted that he already modified the trial day to end at 2:30 p.m. ET, at the request of Menendez's attorneys, but would go no further.
    "The court will not serve as concierge to any party or lawyer. Defendant Menendez claims that he is in a 'unique situation' because his voting duties are 'on a schedule not of his own making.' But so are the duties of the radio repairman, the cab driver and the businessman," Walls added. "Yet none would claim the right to dictate the schedule of their own criminal trial. Menendez is given the same choice as any other criminal defendant."
    Menendez's defense team did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling.