DC judge and Manafort team already clashing in court

The judge who will oversee Paul Manafort's trial in Washington has warned members of the defense team severa...

Posted: Aug 29, 2018 7:58 AM
Updated: Aug 29, 2018 7:58 AM

The judge who will oversee Paul Manafort's trial in Washington has warned members of the defense team several times about their behavior in court, including on Tuesday morning at a hearing.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson's message is clear: She's closely watching Manafort's lawyers -- especially lead defense attorney Kevin Downing -- to make sure they don't act out.

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"Mr. Downing, I just want to let you know that you are an expressive human being and how you feel about what is being said in the courtroom is a big part of your demeanor and your physical demeanor," she said to him at a behind-closed-doors court hearing months ago. The transcript was recently made public.

"That doesn't upset me particularly, but it will upset me enormously if there's a jury in the box. So just keep that in mind," she told him.

Berman Jackson echoed that message Tuesday in open court. "There are people who are very expressive in this courtroom about what they think about what I just said or what the government just said or what the defense just said, and that is not going to happen when there is a jury in the box. Please keep that in mind," she said, after an interruption from Downing.

Downing had stood up near the end of the hearing to sarcastically ask if the prosecutors suggested both sides should have "way more time to be prepared for this trial?" Downing had complained to Berman Jackson earlier in the morning that Manafort's team was struggling to keep up with the government's thousands of documents and filings in the case.

Berman Jackson agreed to move the start of the main part of the trial back by a week, to Sept. 24. Jury selection will begin the Monday prior, on Sept. 17.

But she still had words for Downing on Tuesday, and responded to his outburst. "We don't need to be smug. We don't need to be cute," she said sharply from the bench. Downing apologized to the judge almost immediately.

She also expressed frustration with all of Manafort's lawyers Tuesday for their requests to delay the trial start date and filing dates.

"What are you asking for? You can't say, I don't know," she said, after Downing complained about his team's difficulties in preparing for trial.

Then, after another Manafort lawyer, Thomas Zehnle, protested a deadline for his team to oppose evidence for the trial, Berman Jackson shot back: "Now you're telling me that tomorrow is impossible. What am I supposed to do? I told you when I wanted it. Now I'm asking you when do you want it, and you won't even tell me. You need to tell me."

This exchange took place in a portion of Tuesday's hearing that was out of earshot and made public via a transcript late in the day.

Not in Virginia anymore

Berman Jackson's approach to Manafort's defense team is nearly the opposite of what they experienced in his first trial in Virginia, which concluded a week ago. In it, federal Judge T.S. Ellis was at times so disdainful toward the prosecutors in front of the jury that they asked several times to make sure that the jurors would ignore his opinions.

After telling the jury he was "probably wrong" for reprimanding the prosecutors at one point during the trial, Ellis said, "This robe doesn't make me anything other than human."

Earlier in the case, Ellis had called out the special counsel team, accusing them of trying to flip Manafort "to get" President Donald Trump.

Ellis has served as a federal judge for 31 years, since the Ronald Reagan administration, and otherwise stays discreet about his political leanings.

Berman Jackson was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2011. For many years, she worked as a defense attorney in private practice.

Both Ellis and Berman Jackson have declined to toss Manafort's case after the former Trump campaign chairman tried to invalidate special counsel Robert Mueller's prosecutorial authority.

Berman Jackson placed a gag order on both legal teams after Downing spoke on the courthouse steps following Manafort's indictment.

As he exited the courtroom on Tuesday, Downing declined to comment on the day's proceedings. He cited the gag order.

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