The William Jefferson Chronicles

William Jefferson's attorneys want all but one charge thrown out before jury gets corruption case
by Bruce Alpert, The Times-Picayune
Monday July 27, 2009, 12:20 PM

ALEXANDRIA, VA. - Federal Judge T.S. Ellis III summoned prosecution and defense lawyers for a hearing late this afternoon that likely will include discussion, and possibly rulings, on defense motions to drop 15 of the 16 corruption charges against former Rep. William Jefferson and the question on how he should instruct the jury that will decide his fate.

The hearing comes one day before the jury is to hear closing arguments in the trial, which began June 9 with jury selection.

On Friday, Jefferson's lawyers filed a motion to drop 15 of the 16 charges, all related to bribery, on grounds that the Justice Department hasn't provided sufficient proof. Prosecutors argued against the motion in their brief.

Jefferson, 62, a nine-term Democratic House member from New Orleans, is accused of soliciting payments to family owned businesses in return for his help with business deals in Western Africa. He did not take the stand in his defense, but has long maintained his innocence.

It's considered very unlikely the judge would throw out the majority of the charges against the defendant.

More critical are the jury instructions Ellis gives the jury of eight women and four men. The case is very complicated, and rests largely on how the jury views the question of whether Jefferson was performing "official acts," as the prosecution maintains, or acting as on private business interests, as his attorneys argue.

In its recommendation on jury instructions, Jefferson's lawyers follow their basic arguments during the trial that the former congressman didn't use his office - such as casting votes on legislation, securing an earmark or an appropriation, or introducing bills - on behalf of any of the businesses he is alleged to have received or solicited bribe payments to family owned businesses.

"A gift or payment given with the generalized hope of some unspecified future benefit is not a bribe," is what Jefferson's lawyers are asking Ellis to advise the jury. "You may convict the defendant only if you find that he solicited or accepted something of value in exchange for some specific official act or course of action."

Prosecutors, who have argued that trying to influence foreign officials and some U.S. agencies, constitute official actions by a member of Congress, urged Ellis to give the jury a broader interpretation of bribery.

"The government need not show that the defendant intended for payments to be tied to specific official acts," prosecutors said in their brief. "Bribery requires the intent to effect an exchange of money (or other things of value) for specific official action, but each payment need not be correlated with a specific official act."

Ellis, in comments made from the bench during the course of the trial, much of them without the jury present, has suggested he generally concurs with the broader interpretation of bribery offered by prosecutors.

Ellis has already told the jury that it cannot make any inference from Jefferson's decision not to testify, since the case rests solely on the ability of prosecutors to present evidence that supports a guilty verdict.

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