Congressman Michael Grimm’s trial on mail, wire fraud and tax charges will begin with jury selection on December 1, United States District Judge Pamela Chen ruled today in a Brooklyn federal courthouse.
Mr. Grimm appeared in the United States Eastern District Court today but did not say a word—nor would he speak to reporters after the brief status conference in the case brought against him by the United States government.
The trial on the 20-count indictment—relating to the operation of a restaurant Mr. Grimm owned before running for Congress—will begin about a month after the November election in which Mr. Grimm faces a well-financed Democratic challenger hoping to capitalize on his legal woes, former Brooklyn Councilman Domenic Recchia Jr..
While the congressman was silent in court, his attorneys, Daniel Rashbaum and Jeffrey Neiman, unsuccessfully asked the judge to push the trial date back by a month—citing ads released by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that highlight the charges against their client and feature footage of U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch.
“We’re obviously in the heart of an election cycle right now. The Democratic party recently put new ads, or are going to begin to air, featuring the U.S. Attorney and snippets of her press conference, which will be airing in, on television here, where our jury pool will be seated,” Mr. Neiman argued. “We’re concerned about ensuring Mr. Grimm has a fair trial, and if the jury sees these repeated ads, we’re concerned that there may be prejudice.”
Mr. Neiman said that while voir dire, or the jury selection processes, could weed out some biased opinions, delaying the trial would be better.
“If we can have a bit of a cooling-off period post-election, it would more ensure a fair trial for Mr. Grimm,” he said.
But Ms. Chen, the judge, wasn’t buying it, agreeing instead with the timeline offered by U.S. Attorney James Gatta.
“I don’t think given the nature of the publicity up til now and depending on what happens with the election that were necessarily going to get much of a break if I delay it by a month,” Ms. Chen said. “And as you well know, there are a lot of cases of significant notoriety that happen in this courtroom every single day, and we deal with it. I’ll deal with it the way we deal with any other case, which is to ensure during the voir dire process we eliminate any bias or undue prejudice due to exposure.”
The prosecutors in the case had previously asked to begin the trial in October, which would have come before the election and as Mr. Grimm would have been on the campaign trial.
“I was prepared for you to argue that obviously having a trial before November might prejudice your client in terms of his ability to participate in his own campaign, that I was somewhat sympathetic to,” Ms. Chen said. “But the notion that we have to delay it a month when it’ll already be two months after the election, or roughly thereabout, just for a cooling-off period for publicity, that I don’t find compelling.”
After the hearing, Mr. Grimm and his attorneys would not speak to reporters about either case or the new advertisements from the DCCC and any role they might play. He received a hug outside the courtroom from Staten Island GOP Chairman John Antonello, who was also tight-lipped.
Mr. Antonello said it was “hard to tell” whether the DCCC advertisements would influence the trial.
Since the indictment was released, Mr. Grimm has badly struggled to raise money, while national Democrats have vowed to flood Mr. Recchia’s campaign with resources. But despite the charges, Mr. Grimm remains popular with many in his Staten Island and Brooklyn District, where Mr. Recchia is less well-known.
Asked whether he thought Mr. Grimm would win re-election, Mr. Antonello was optimistic: “I think he will,” he said.
While the defense and prosecution have several October deadlines for filing motions, Mr. Grimm is not required to appear in court again until November 20 for a pre-trial hearing.