Me­nen­dez jury tells judge of dead­lock, will re­turn

De­lib­er­a­tions back on to­day; com­ments by juror stir dis­pute.

The Palm Beach Post - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - By David Porter

NEWARK, N.J. — The jury in the bribery trial of Demo­cratic U.S. Sen. Bob Me­nen­dez and a wealthy donor and friend told the judge it couldn’t reach a ver­dict on Mon­day on any of the 18 counts against them, prompt­ing the judge to or­der it to re­turn to­day to con­tinue de­lib­er­at­ing.

The devel­op­ment capped a tu­mul­tuous day that be­gan with de­fense at­tor­neys ar­gu­ing with U.S. Dis­trict Judge Wil­liam Walls over a dif­fer­ent is­sue: public com­ments made last week by a juror who had been ex­cused for a pre­vi­ously sched­uled va­ca­tion.

The juror told re­porters she and oth­ers were in fa­vor of ac­quit­tal but she an­tic­i­pated a hung jury. De­fense at­tor­neys pressed the judge to ques­tion jurors, who have been told re­peat­edly not to read re­ports about the case, on whether any had heard the ex­cused juror’s com­ments.

Four jurors and three al­ter­nates had, but af­ter ques­tion­ing them in pri­vate the judge di­rected the jury to restart de­lib­er­a­tions with an al­ter­nate re­plac­ing the ex­cused juror.

Three hours later, the jurors sent a note say­ing they couldn’t “reach a unan­i­mous ver­dict on any of the charges.” The judge in­structed them to “have a good meal and good sleep” and re­turn Tues­day.

Me­nen­dez seemed buoyed by the jurors’ note.

“As I said two and a half years ago when I first faced th­ese charges, I was in­no­cent,” he said. “And clearly there are jurors who be­lieve in my in­no­cence.”

A mis­trial would be a ma­jor set­back for the gov­ern­ment, which spent more than two years in­ves­ti­gat­ing the New Jersey se­na­tor’s ties with Florida eye doc­tor Salomon Mel­gen be­fore in­dict­ing them in the spring of 2015. For another 2½ years pros­e­cu­tors filed vo­lu­mi­nous le­gal briefs in re­sponse to de­fense ef­forts to have the case dis­missed. The trial is in its 11th week.

A mis­trial also would rep­re­sent a mixed bag for Me­nen­dez. With the case pend­ing, he wouldn’t face pres­sure to step down as he might in the event of a con­vic­tion; but, con­versely, the charges likely would be hang­ing over him as he seeks re-elec­tion next year, as­sum­ing the gov­ern­ment seeks a re­trial.

De­fense at­tor­neys ar­gued Mon­day that ex­cused juror Eve­lyn Ar­royo-Maultsby’s com­ments that she was told she couldn’t send the judge a note last week could rep­re­sent a breach of pro­to­col. The judge down­played any no­tion that the jury had been com­pro­mised and ac­cused de­fense at­tor­ney Abbe Low­ell of mak­ing an is­sue of it be­cause “she was on your side.”

Pros­e­cu­tors al­lege Me­nen­dez and Mel­gen be­tween 2006 and 2013 en­gaged in a bribery scheme in which Me­nen­dez traded his po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence for lux­ury va­ca­tions and flights on the doc­tor’s pri­vate plane.

The men each face about a dozen counts in­clud­ing bribery, fraud and con­spir­acy. Me­nen­dez also is charged with mak­ing false state­ments for fail­ing to re­port Mel­gen’s gifts on Se­nate dis­clo­sure forms.

Both men deny the al­le­ga­tions. De­fense at­tor­neys have sought to show jurors that the two men are long­time friends who ex­changed gifts out of friend­ship. They also con­tend Me­nen­dez’s meet­ings with gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials were fo­cused on broad pol­icy is­sues.

Ar­royo-Maultsby’s com­ments ap­peared to in­di­cate at least some, and pos­si­bly a ma­jor­ity, of the jurors may be­lieve the de­fense’s the­ory.

A mis­trial could partly re­in­force the view that of­fi­cial bribery cases have be­come more dif­fi­cult to pros­e­cute, a trend traced to last year’s U.S. Supreme Court rul­ing that over­turned the bribery con­vic­tion of former Repub­li­can Vir­ginia Gov. Bob McDon­nell. That rul­ing played a sig­nif­i­cant role in how the jury was in­structed in the Me­nen­dez trial.

U.S. Sen. Bob Me­nen­dez (left) and eye doc­tor Salomon Mel­gen were in­dicted in 2015.

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