Politics

Judge: Menendez No Different Than a Cab Driver

Says he won't alter trial schedule for key Senate votes

Sen. Robert Menendez has lost a bid to alter his trial schedule. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

In the eyes of the law, being a U.S. senator should be no different than being a taxi cab driver in the city of Newark, New Jersey.

That’s the underlying justification for the decision by a federal judge to deny a request by Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez to allow for an altered trial schedule in Newark when he needs to be in Washington for what are described as “critical” Senate votes.

Menendez is facing corruption charges alleging he used his official position to benefit his friend, Salomon Melgen, a Florida eye doctor who has been convicted on separate charges of defrauding the government

“The Court will not serve as concierge to any party or lawyer. Defendant Menendez claims that he is in a ‘unique situation’ because his voting duties are ‘on a schedule not of his own making,’” Senior Judge William H. Walls wrote in his opinion. “But so are the duties of the radio repairman, the cab driver, and the businessman. Yet none would claim the right to dictate the schedule of their own criminal trial. Menendez is given the same choice as any other criminal defendant.”

Walls explained that Menendez does not need to be present in the courtroom on any particular day, and that his interestes can be represented by members of his legal team.

“Defendant Menendez, granted, as are all defendants, with the presumption of innocence, need not appear in court if he does not wish or wants to be absent. He may voluntarily absent himself. This is his prerogative. All defendants have that right. Such right is not new nor recent,” Walls wrote in the opinion published Friday.

Under the agreed upon schedule that Walls reiterated Friday, the trial will begin on Sept. 6, with proceedings generally taking place from 9:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday.

The schedule makes it very likely Menendez will need to choose between being in court or voting on measures like funding the government and raising the nation’s debt ceiling.

In the opinion denying the schedule change for Senate votes, Walls added that the trial’s anticipated to take from six to eight weeks on that schedule, at the federal court house in Newark.

Walls was nominated to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton after a long legal career in Newark and time as a New Jersey superior court judge. He assumed senior status back in 2005.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.