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U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez and Florida eye specialist Salomon Melgen have been accused in a 2015 indictment of bribery and different crimes and have pleaded not responsible.
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Sen. Bob Menendez arrives to court docket for his federal corruption trial in Newark, N.J., on Oct. 23, 2017.(Picture: Seth Wenig, AP)

In the event that they get their means, legal professionals for Sen. Bob Menendez may have a federal decide inform jurors that senators are folks too, that giving them presents and lavish hospitality is just not against the law even if you happen to’re attempting to curry their affect, and that wealthy persons are allowed to spend as a lot as they need on political campaigns.

These are simply a few of the arguments contained in 144 pages of proposed jury directions filed by protection attorneys earlier than the trial of Menendez and codefendant Salomon Melgen started in September.

Prosecutors will get to file their very own model of what jurors ought to hear, and the choice by U.S. District Choose William Partitions about find out how to describe the crimes going through the defendants and what prosecutors are required to show may strongly affect whether or not the decision is harmless or responsible.

Menendez’s protection attorneys rested their case Monday after Partitions rejected a movement from them calling for a mistrial. Subsequent jurors will hear closing arguments from prosecutors and the protection, after which detailed directions from Partitions about find out how to think about the case.

Normally, jury directions are a minor however vital stage in trials as a result of the best way judges describe crimes and the requirements for proving them has been honed by means of years of case legislation and rulings by appellate courts that uphold particular wording.

However Menendez and Melgen seem to be the primary main corruption defendants to have their circumstances go to a jury since a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court docket ruling that overturned the conviction of former Virginia governor Robert McDonnell and redefined bribery legislation.

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Already this yr, the corruption convictions of two New York state legislative leaders, Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos, have been overturned due to directions given to their juries earlier than the McDonnell ruling.

Typically, bribery is taking an official motion, or agreeing to behave, in change for receiving one thing of worth.

The directions to the McDonnell jury relied on the federal bribery legislation to outline what an official motion was, however the Supreme Court docket determined the legislation’s definition may have included routine political actions that weren’t official acts.

“They mentioned sure issues are not official actions — conferences, speaking to colleagues, internet hosting an occasion — and you may anticipate the protection to ask for that to be included within the directions,” mentioned Michael Koenig, a former federal prosecutor and co-chair of the legislation agency Hinckley Allen’s white-collar protection group in Albany, N.Y.

However whereas the McDonnell ruling listed issues that weren’t official acts, it didn’t particularly outline what have been official acts.

“It leaves it for decrease courts to determine that out,” Koenig mentioned.

Menendez is accused of urgent officers within the Obama administration to advertise the enterprise and private pursuits of his longtime pal Melgen, who allegedly paid bribes within the type of greater than $700,000 in political contributions and free journeys on his personal jet and lodging at inns and his dwelling in a Caribbean resort.

Earlier than the trial started in September, protection attorneys filed 144 pages of proposed jury directions masking a variety of points.

The protection desires the federal government to need to show that particular bribes have been offered in change for particular actions, and that Menendez and Melgen knew they have been bribes after they have been paid. The federal government has mentioned that Melgen offered Menendez with a “stream of advantages” over time to get his help on an as-needed foundation.

A number of proposed directions say that for every bribe, the jury should resolve Menendez “demanded, sought or acquired one thing of worth,” that Menendez was a public official, and that Menendez took a particular act “with the understanding that he was being given a bribe.”

The proposed directions additionally go to nice lengths to attempt to defuse essentially the most probably damning proof produced on the trial.

“Presents to public officers are usually not mechanically bribes … even when they’re offered by somebody searching for to curry favor or affect,” proposed instruction No. 41 says. “Senators are folks too, and they’re allowed to have buddies … Senators and their buddies are allowed to change presents.”

The identical instruction goes on to say that “the follow of utilizing hospitality, even lavish hospitality, to domesticate enterprise or political relationships is longstanding and pervasive. Chances are you’ll imagine that each one such hospitality is just not applicable and even reprehensible and ought to be flatly prohibited by legislation, however that’s not the legislation.”

Instruction No. 43 says that the Supreme Court docket “has acknowledged that sincere political contributions are given to reward public officers with whom the donor agrees. … To ensure that the federal government to show political contribution was a bribe, it should show past an inexpensive doubt that there was an specific quid professional quo settlement between Dr. Melgen and Senator Menendez about that contribution.”

Instruction No. 44 describes the Supreme Court docket ruling that opened the door for “Tremendous PACs” or committees that may settle for limitless quantities from contributors so long as there isn’t a coordination with candidates on the way it was spent. Two of the bribes alleged within the indictment have been checks of $300,000 every that Melgen gave to a fund referred to as Majority PAC with the course or not it’s spent in New Jersey in 2012, when Menendez was working for re-election.

“You might have a constitutional proper to spend as a lot of your individual cash as you wish to advocate for or towards a politician,” the proposed instruction says. “With the intention to cost Dr. Melgen’s constitutionally protected contributions to Majority PAC as bribes, the federal government should first show past an inexpensive doubt that Majority PAC prearranged and coordinated its spending with Senator Menendez.”

Prosecutors had not filed their proposed directions as of Friday, however they argued in an earlier submitting that the protection proposals in September “repeatedly misstate the relevant legislation.”

“The defendants’ proposed directions as to what the federal government should show are inaccurate for nearly each rely and in a number of methods for every rely,” the federal government staff wrote.

The protection won’t get every part it asks for, however a few of it’s going to possible make it to the jury, mentioned Randal D. Eliason, a former federal prosecutor who specialised in white-collar crime and now could be a part of the adjunct college at George Washington College Legislation Faculty.

“It’s up the decide’s discretion, however he won’t inform them issues which might be frequent sense like senators are allowed to have buddies. That type of foolish conduct,” mentioned Eliason, who has written a number of occasions concerning the Menendez case on his weblog.

“Issues like marketing campaign contributions are usually not themselves unlawful, that type of factor, one thing like that will get in there,” he mentioned. 

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