PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A lawyer for imprisoned former U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah on Thursday zeroed in on what he called the improper dismissal of a holdout juror in his appeal of the congressman's racketeering conviction.
Attorney Bruce Merenstein sparred with a panel of three federal judges during a hearing in Philadelphia, arguing that there wasn't a good enough reason to dismiss a juror who is said to have screamed at his counterparts and vowed to cause a hung jury during Fattah's trial.
"I think that he wasn't engaging in the process. That's part of what they said, that he wasn't actively engaging in the discussion," Judge Joseph A. Greenaway Jr. said, referring to statements made by other jurors.
The lawyer for the 61-year-old Democratic former congressman from Philadelphia did not budge.
"I guess, again, that I would disagree," Merenstein said, noting that one of the jurors said the man who was dismissed was participating deliberations.
Fattah's appeal also draws upon a recent Supreme Court decision that tweaked the legal definition of a corrupt act and has enabled some politicians to toss out convictions in similar cases. The 2016 ruling says that setting up meetings, hosting events or calling other public officials don't necessarily qualify as official government acts performed in return for money or services received.
By that logic, his lawyers have written, the letters Fattah sent boosting a friend's request for an ambassadorship, as well as a reported promise he made to steer a federal grant toward a nonprofit, weren't illegal. The actions were instead the workaday functions of a politician, according to his attorneys.
Fattah spent 20 years in Congress before being convicted in 2016 of taking an illegal campaign loan, then using government and nonprofit funds to repay it. He was sentenced to a decade in prison and is being held in a medium security facility in northwestern Pennsylvania near the New York border.