Manafort trial judge has received threats

The jury in the Paul Manafort trial are still deliberating. There’s a pile of papers and 18 charges so it’s not surprising it is taking a while to arrive at verdicts.

In a bizarre twist the trial judge says there have been threats made against him.

NBCNews:  Judge in Paul Manafort trial says he has gotten threats

District Court Judge T.S. Ellis, who is overseeing the bank and tax fraud trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, said Friday that he has received threats that necessitate U.S. marshal protection to and from the courthouse.

“I had no idea that this case would excite these emotions, I will tell you that frankly,” Ellis told the court as the jury, which was not present for his comments, deliberated for a second day. The case is being tried in Alexandria, Virginia.

Ellis’s admission came during an afternoon hearing brought by a coalition of media outlets, including NBC News, to unseal juror names and bench conference transcripts of conversations the judge has had with the defense and the prosecution.

Ellis refused to reveal the names of the jurors because he fears they would face similar threats — without being afforded the same protections.

“I have no reason to believe that, if those names are unsealed, there won’t be threats against them,” he said.

Ellis also said he would not unseal the one bench conference related to the ongoing investigation, because he did not want to interfere in it, though at the conclusion of the case, he will unseal transcripts related to the administration of the jury.

Manafort is facing 18 charges of tax and banking fraud, and has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Prosecutors have painted Manafort as a liar who hid millions from U.S. tax authorities in overseas accounts for years, while Manafort’s attorneys sought to paint him as a talented political consultant who had served several elected officials, including Trump, while pinning the blame for any wrongdoing on Rick Gates, Manafort’s former protégé and the key witness against him.

Threatening a trial judge is a very serious allegation.

Craig v Slater defamation trial to be judge-alone

Slipping beneath my radar yesterday was this news that the Colin Craig v Cameron Slater defamation case would be a judge-alone trial.

NZ City: No jury in Craig, Slater defamation case

A defamation claim by former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig and Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater won’t be heard before a jury.

Mr Craig is suing Slater and co-publisher Social Media Consultants Ltd over 18 statements made on radio, television and on the blog about Mr Craig’s relationship with his former press secretary Rachel MacGregor.

Slater is counter-suing Mr Craig for two statements made in a press conference and booklet alleging he and the Whale Oil blog were involved in a campaign to force his resignation from the Conservative Party.

A jury had already been summoned for the trial, which is scheduled to begin on May 8, but Justice Christopher Toogood on Tuesday ordered the case be heard by a judge alone.

Slater had sought a jury hearing, while Mr Craig wanted judge-alone.

In his judgment, Justice Toogood said Mr Craig believed the question trail to assist the jury decide the issues could run as long as 100 pages and “the time, effort and expertise required to follow it should not reasonably be required of a jury”.

But Slater’s barrister Brian Henry said the case was not nearly as complex given the direction on legal matters was not controversial and the facts fell within a narrow compass.

Justice Toogood disagreed.

“Arising out of the allegations, 50 possibly defamatory meanings are asserted,” he said.

“The factual background to each of the publications is extensive.”

He said it would be unreasonable for a jury to work through the complex legal background of the case and ordered it be heard by a judge alone.

This is of particular interest because the decision was released on the same day that Katz J released her judgment in Jordan Williams v Craig that ruled that the jury award of damages was excessive and would amount to a miscarriage of justice. Katz J outlined a number of issues that the jury had had problems with or ignored despite her summing up alerting the jury to them.

Craig has said that he won’t choose to allow Katz J to decide on damages, so the only options for Williams appears to be to walk away from the case, to appeal, or to go to a new trial.

If it goes to a new trial then Craig may apply for judge-alone there too. Given the problems with the jury in the first trial, and the decision to order judge-alone in Craig v Slater, there may not be a jury second time round.

Williams will need to weight these things up when deciding what to do from here.

Craig’s and Slater’s legal teams are likely to be reassessing their approach to their cases now.

The jury in the defamation case Hagamans v Andrew Little had problems deciding on complex legal questions a week ago, resulting in a hung verdict. That case may also go to a second trial.

In that case the judge referred to the difficulties with dealing with the overlapping responsibilities of judge (on law) and jury (on facts) over deciding on whether qualified privilege could apply (judge’s decision) and whether there were sufficient grounds (ill will will or unfair advantage) for qualified privilege to be removed as a defence.

Judge hands Williams v Craig over to jury

The judge summed up the Jordan Williams versus Colin Craig defamation trial this morning and then handed over to the jury to deliberate for the afternoon. They have now taken a break for the night.

NZ Herald: Judge sums up in Colin Craig defamation trial

Before the jury were sent to decide if Colin Craig defamed Jordan Williams, they were told to decide if the politician was fairly responding to an attack, if he believed what he said was the truth or his honest opinion.

In her summing up of more than three weeks of evidence, Justice Sarah Katz told the 11 jurors the key point of the case was Craig’s motive when he said Williams was dishonest, deceitful and lacked integrity.

The two allegedly defamatory actions the jury must deliberate are Craig’s remarks at a press conference and a leaflet about Williams sent to 1.6 million households.

For each of the two actions, the jury must decide whether Williams had proved that, because of Craig, his reputation was lowered in the eyes of an ordinary and right-thinking member of society or if he was exposed to ridicule or hatred.

If so, Justice Katz asked them if they believed the former Conservative Party leader was appropriately responding to an attack on his character after Williams revealed Craig had been sexually harassing his former press secretary.

Or was Craig predominantly motivated by ill-will and did he want to hurt Williams?

Justice Katz told the jury that if, on the balance of probabilities – which is the standard of proof in a civil case – they believed the former, then the defence of qualified privilege applied and they should rule in favour of Craig.

“That will be the end of the matter.”

However, if they decided Craig was predominantly motivated by ill-will and wanted to harm Williams then they must move to whether what he said was the truth or his honest opinion, based on facts.

And if they get through all the defences for both the remarks and the leaflet and if they decide none of them were proven, then the 11 jurors must rule on what damages Craig has to pay Williams for the “injury to his reputation and the injury to his feelings”.

What the jury must decide:

For each of the two actions Craig allegedly defamed Williams by: what he said at the press conference and what he published in the leaflet.

• If yes, then they must move to:
• Was Craig appropriately responding to an earlier attack by Williams on the politician’s character or was he motivated by hurting Williams?
• Was Craig telling the truth?
• Was Craig expressing his honest opinion?
• If all are no, then they must decide how much Craig should pay Williams for the injury to his reputation and feelings.
• The jury must be unanimous.

So was Craig’s reaction a reasonable way to deal with what he felt was an attack on him and his party, or did he take it too far? That’s up to the jury to decide.

The Herald reported that the judge said the $1.34 million total Williams sought was a ceiling and not a target, but another report said they couldn’t award more than $400 thousand.

I think it’s fine for a jury to decide whether they believe defamation is proven or not, but I find  that deciding on an amount that could be hundreds and thousands of dollars a bit strange. I presume the judge has given them good indications of how to go about deciding, if they get that far.

For detailed information on defamation law:

Defamation case judgments:

Examples of damages:

1994: A jury awarded $375,000 (about $575,000 in 2016) to a journalist who was repeatedly implied by a magazine to have a drinking problem. Subsequently, the parties settled the dispute for $100,000 (about $155,000 in 2016).

1996: A jury awarded $1.5 million (about $2.18 million in 2016) to a member of Auckland Trotting Club for two TV broadcasts in 1990 that made allegations of horse doping and serious financial irregularities. Subsequently, a judge lowered the amount to $650,000 (about $950,000 in 2016).

2000: A jury awarded $675,000 (about $930,000 in 2016) to a musician who was described by a newspaper as unprofessional and greedy following the musician’s performance at an All Blacks-Springboks test. A High Court Judge upheld the award.

2008: A judge awarded $900,000 (about $1 million in 2016) to a businessman and his firm for repeated allegations on a website and on billboards of a receiver’s business practices and conduct. The Court of Appeal upheld the award.

2013: A jury awarded $270,000 to a businessman for allegations in a book written by the man’s ex-wife’s containing allegations of his sexual perversion.

2014: A judge awarded $535,000 to a businessman and former All Black for allegations published that he was dishonest, a crook, and had improperly manipulated a murder trial.

Sexual violence law recommendations

Justice Minister Amy Adams is considering a Law Commission report that recommends significant changes to how sexual violence and assault cases are dealt with by the courts.

Many sexual complaints don’t even get to court, in part due to the stress and difficulties for complainants in sexual cases.

And many cases that do get to court are indecisive, with 8% of trials being retrials due to hung juries, compared to 0.8% of all trials.

In Report suggests no juries in rape trials NZ Herald lists key Law Commission recommendations:

A sexual violence court as a two-year pilot, with specialist judges and counsel.

  • Have District Court and High Court judges take training courses in order to sit on a sexual violence case.
  • Consider an alternative to juries in such cases — perhaps a specially trained judge alone or judge with two expert “lay assessors”.
  • Consider limiting the right to trial by jury in sexual violence cases.
  • Enable victims to seek redress such as an apology, and which wouldn’t lead to a conviction.
  • Ensure cases start in a timely fashion.

Sexual complaint cases can be particularly difficult due to the (often) lack of witnesses in incidents involving just the accused and the complainant, and also the many grey areas of what constitutes offences and what constitutes consent or lack of consent.

The Law Commission has also recommended providing an alternative process for certain lower-level cases, outside the criminal justice system.

Victims would initiate the process and seek redress such as an apology or payment and the perpetrator would not have a criminal record.

That sounds like potentially a good way of dealing with less serious cases.

There were also “powerful cultural conceptions” that were “unique to sexual violence as a form of criminal offending”.

These could include moral beliefs about how a woman should behave, and misplaced ideas about how sexual violence occurs or the “correct” response.

The commission concludes there is a case for eventually putting sexual violence cases before something other than a jury – perhaps a judge alone or judge with two expert “lay assessors”, as in Germany.

That also sounds like it is worth trying.