Menendez Deliberations Not Tainted by Ex-Juror, Judge Says

Updated on
  • Panelists questioned about media disclosures by excused juror
  • Judge dismisses notion of possible mistrial in corruption case

Menendez, right, exits federal court in Newark, New Jersey, on Nov. 9, 2017.

Photographer: Peter Foley/Bloomberg

The judge in the bribery trial of Senator Robert Menendez brushed aside the notion that an excused juror’s comments in the news media might taint deliberations, ordering the jury to start over with an alternate panelist.

“You are now a new jury,” U.S. District Judge William Walls told the panel Monday in federal court in Newark, New Jersey. “You are to disregard whatever you negotiated or deliberated on. You’re starting anew. Forget about whatever happened last week.”

After meeting individually with four panelists and three alternates who said they had seen news reports that recounted their secret negotiations, Walls said he was satisfied that nothing he heard would prevent the jury from starting fresh after three full days of deliberations last week.

The uproar began after Evelyn Arroyo-Maultsby was excused on Nov. 9 for a pre-approved vacation. That evening, she told Bloomberg News and other news media that she had been prevented during contentious deliberations from giving a handwritten note to the judge about the 18 counts against the New Jersey Democrat and his co-defendant, Salomon Melgen.

She also called Menendez a good man who was “not at all corrupt” but that all 12 jurors at one point had agreed he was guilty of one criminal charge: making false statements by failing to disclose Melgen’s gifts on his Senate ethics forms. Arroyo-Maultsby said she later had a change of heart over that charge and favored acquittal.

Send Notes

Walls told jurors Monday they should feel free to send him notes any time they want. He read from the note that Arroyo-Maultsby sent him, quoting: “I found it very unfair that after nine weeks this jury refused to present a verdict that was reached on Wednesday.” She didn’t elaborate on which of the 18 counts she alluded to in her note.

Menendez is accused of accepting lavish gifts and political contributions from Melgen, a Florida eye doctor. In exchange, prosecutors say, the senator used his office to carry out official acts to help the doctor in various disputes with the U.S. government. They are accused of conspiracy, bribery, honest services fraud and a violation of the Travel Act. Menendez is charged separately with false statements.

On Monday, defense lawyers urged Walls to question jurors, but they never explicitly asked for a mistrial if the panelists’ answers warranted one. The judge waved away that possibility anyway.

“If you’re implying the genesis of a mistrial, you’re off target. You’re way off target,” Walls said. “There’s no way on God’s green earth this judge is going to declare a mistrial” when alternate jurors were available to start deliberations anew.

Before Walls questioned jurors, Menendez attorney Abbe Lowell urged him to question them on whether the excused juror was prevented from communicating “deadlock or discontent” to the judge or and whether she had been “manipulated” by jurors who told her that her vote didn’t count.

‘Doesn’t Count’

Arroyo-Maultsby told Bloomberg that during stressful and tense deliberations, two jurors told her that she’d soon be off the panel, leaving her to believe that her vote didn’t matter.

If jurors told her that her vote “doesn’t count” and the other panelists could “wait you out,” that could be grounds for misconduct, said Melgen attorney Kirk Ogrosky.

Walls scolded the defense lawyers for what he said were legal arguments that didn’t offer a practical alternative to starting deliberations anew. “They ran out the clock on her,” Walls said. “Well, that’s life.”

Justice Department attorney Peter Koski said it would be improper to “interfere or inject ourselves” into deliberations, particularly based on comments made to the media. Such inquiries, he said, risked undermining a verdict.

Jurors heard nine weeks of testimony before starting deliberations on Nov. 6.

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