Updated 10/30/2009 06:08 AM
Legal maneuvering ahead of Bruno trial
There was more legal maneuvering on Thursday, just days before the federal trial of former Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno begins. Bruno is accused of trying to enter into direct relationships with those pursuing an interest in pending legislation and failing to disclose the potential conflicts of interest. But the latest developments could impact the trial - and also how it's reported. Our Steve Ference explains the latest.
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ALBANY, N.Y. -- After a pre-trial conference for attorneys in the Joe Bruno case, both Bruno and his counsel, Abbe Lowell, spoke with members of the media.
Legal expert Paul Der Ohannesian said, "A judge can't control all the publicity, but he can control the parties involved in the case."
Citing Lowell's specific comments as seen by the court on this station, Judge Gary Sharpe filed an order threatening to impose a gag order and possibly punish Lowell for answering questions about how the Supreme Court may soon look at issues that could matter to this case, among other topics.
Der Ohannesian said, "Within hours of raising this issue, the judge said the guidelines weren't being followed, and he said he was concerned about that."
Judge Sharpe wrote, "The comments attributed to Mr. Lowell may violate...(a local rule)...because they constitute extrajudicial statements that he reasonably would have expected to be publicly disseminated and because such dissemination would interfere with a fair trial."
He continued, "On its own motion, the court is considering whether (1) a special order ("gag order"), and/or (2) disciplinary action is appropriate in this case."
The judge's order comes after he referenced past coverage of high-profile cases by local media - and said he was "aghast at this community." The risk of sanctions sent a message to everyone involved, and to Lowell - a nationally known attorney who has represented clients like Representative Gary Condit, and even Sean Combs.
Lowell filed his response writing, "Mr. Lowell asks that the Court consider the context of the statements raised by issues of the day in court; that the statements did reflect in some instances positions taken in court and in pleadings; that the statements addressed issues of the law or what the Supreme Court was doing..."
Lowell went on to apologize - and now won't speak with the media during this trial, writing, "Mr. Lowell requests a brief telephone conference with the Court and government attorneys to address this issue, express his regret, and resolve the matter with whatever the Court deems an appropriate outcome."
And all of this comes only days before the trial gets underway.
Der Ohannesian said, "What this judge has done not just on this issue but other issues, as evidenced by your report on Monday, is shown that he wants to run a tight ship in this case."
We did reach out to Lowell for comment.
The trial of Joe Bruno is set to begin on Monday with jury selection and we may hear opening arguments from both sides as well.