A federal judge denied a motion for a mistrial Friday in the corruption case of former New York Senate leader Joseph Bruno, rejecting the defense argument that he was favoring the prosecutors.
Defense attorney William Dreyer asked for the mistrial on grounds that some of U.S. District Judge Gary Sharpe's comments in front of the jury have left the impression the defense was doing something "improper" and using unfair tactics
Sharpe has criticized defense attorney Abbe David Lowell several times, saying he's making speeches when he questions witnesses and telling him not to do that. Dreyer said alternatively, he wanted the judge to instruct the jury to disregard his criticism.
In denying the motion, Sharpe told the defense team he would make it clear to jurors in his final instructions that he's not favoring one side or another. Sharpe then brought the jurors back into the courtroom, where he told them it was their job to determine the facts in the case, and not to be swayed by his interactions with the lawyers.
Bruno, 80, faces eight fraud counts. He is accused of denying New Yorkers his honest services. Prosecutors allege he used his state position to enrich himself by $3.2 million over 13 years. Bruno said he simply had a sideline business as a consultant and always put his state concerns first.
At the close of the trial's eighth day on Thursday, Sharpe scolded Bruno for questioning one of the judge's rulings in front of the jury, and promised to take steps if he did it again.
On Friday, Sharpe put on the court record what he heard Bruno say after Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Coombe was told by Sharpe she could ask more questions of a witness: "See, I told you his rulings were unfair."
Sharpe said he heard the remark and he believed some jurors did, too.
Bruno said later it was simply a quiet comment to one of his lawyers, and it was more of a question.
Returning to court Friday, Bruno told reporters he has respect for who's in charge, and it's the judge. "All I want is a fair and impartial trial. I am innocent. There is a presumption in this country. We're not in a Third World country. We're in the United States of America," he said.
In testimony Friday, Russell Ball, retired chief executive of Roadway Contracting, said he paid Bruno $270,000 in consulting fees in 2004 and 2005, mostly through $20,000 monthly payments. Ball said Bruno's calls to construction company executives for Roadway, which installed underground utility services, didn't produce work, but his advice helped him revamp the company, putting his wife in charge and getting the employees out soliciting new business.
Ball acknowledged Bruno was paid by subsidiary BB Gardner to keep that information private, with checks written to Bruno's company Capital Business Consultants LLC. He said other company executives were paid by Gardner, and that Bruno told him he had Senate ethics clearance to work for Roadway.
Ball also said his company subsequently got some business with the New York Power Authority and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Asked whether Bruno made contacts with those government agencies on behalf of Roadway, Ball said, "Not that I know of."