Sen. Bob Menendez and a wealthy ophthalmologist rested their defense case Monday in their bribery trial after a federal judge rejected their lawyer’s motion for a mistrial.
Judge William Walls denied the motion from the New Jersey Democrat and Dr. Salomon Melgen Monday morning.
“You’re not getting it because there’s not even palpable merit,” said Walls, ruling from the bench and scolding the defense attorneys for what he called “silly” arguments.
The move means neither defendant will testify. The case could go to the jury later this week.
Defense attorneys cited a number of evidentiary rulings and comments from the judge that they believe have prejudiced the defense.
“The court’s rulings have been unfairly prejudicial, inconsistent, and contrary to law,” attorneys wrote. “Defendants seek a mistrial because the court’s evidentiary rulings and comments throughout this trial evince a cumulative abuse of discretion that has deprived defendants of their Fifth and Sixth Amendments rights to a fair trial, to an adequate defense, and to confront the witnesses against them.”
But prosecutor Peter Koski said the judge had “faithfully and consistently applied the federal rules of evidence.”
“This is part of the defendants’ demonstrated pattern of blaming others and unwillingness to accept responsibility for their conduct,” Koski told Walls. “Now after an eight-week trial, they are directing their blame at this court.”
Walls silently listened to attorneys Monday morning, a departure from his usual banter during arguments, before ultimately denying the defense motion.
Prosecutors say Menendez pressured high-level officials in the Obama administration and other career diplomats to help Melgen resolve his business disputes in exchange for political contributions, free rides on Melgen’s private jet, and a posh hotel suite at the Park Hyatt in Paris.
The two men deny all wrongdoing and have called witnesses who told jurors that they have been longtime close friends.
Walls and the defense team have battled throughout the trial as lawyers have tried to introduce evidence that Menendez was focused on the larger policy issues raised by his friend’s disputes – not engaged in a corrupt scheme.
Once again on Monday, Walls batted away any suggestion of judicial misconduct on his part, especially in regard to his failure to adequately address a “throw away” comment from the prosecutor earlier this month.
On cross-examination of Melgen’s wife regarding a check then-Florida Gov. Charlie Crist wrote to the Melgen family for their hospitality in the Dominican Republic in 2009, prosecutor Monique Abrishami ended with a bang: “So at least this politician knows how to pay your husband back for things?”
Defense attorneys raised the issue last week as an example of uneven treatment during the trial given the judge’s reaction was to tell the prosecutor “good try” before instructing the jury to disregard the question.
“In 30 something years on the bench, I’ve never heard a more silly objection,” Walls said – appearing baffled Monday at the suggestion that he could have done anything more to cure the situation. “I don’t know what I was supposed to do, bring in the firing squad?”