NEWARK — Jurors in the federal corruption trial of U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez went home Tuesday without reaching a verdict, a day after telling the court they were deadlocked on all charges.
Jurors sent no notes and asked no questions during their 5 1/2 hours of deliberations on Tuesday, giving no clue as to whether they were any closer to reaching a verdict on the 12 counts against Menendez, a Democrat and New Jersey’s senior senator, and the 11 counts against his co-defendent, Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen.
Deliberations began last week. However, Judge William Walls dismissed one of the jurors last Thursday so she could go on a long-planned vacation. After replacing her with an alternate, Walls told the jury to begin deliberations from scratch on Monday.
The 84-year-old judge did not seem concerned by the length of the deliberations, saying that in his experience, jurors can take “long, long time” to come to a decision.
At the end of the day Tuesday, Melgen attorney Murad Hussain said that if the jury again says it is deadlocked, Walls should poll the foreman “as to the utility of further deliberations,” then poll the rest of the panel and then decide, after conferring with attorneys from both sides, whether calling a mistrial is appropriate.
Lead prosecutor Peter Koski, on the other hand, requested that if the jury remains deadlocked, Walls should instruct them that they can deliver a partial verdict if they can come to a unanimous decision on any of the counts.
Walls said he had no problem with either suggestion.
Defense lawyers also raised concerns that Walls’ instructions to the jury could “coerce” them into reaching a verdict. But Walls was skeptical of a defense request to inform jurors that a hung jury is an acceptable outcome.
“The law is pretty clear,” Menendez attorney Raymond Brown said, “that a hung jury, to use the vernacular, is the legitimate result of a jury deliberation.”
Although he didn’t outright reject the request, Walls challenged defense attorneys to find him a case in which a judge gave that kind of instruction to a jury.
“Tell me some other case, some other trial court, some other circuit that said this," Walls said. "This is one time I don’t necessarily have to be first. Find some case that says that, alright? “As far as pushing and rushing someone in a criminal case to reach a verdict, I have been accused of a lot of things but I’ve never been accused of that.”
Prosecutors alleged Melgen plied Menendez with gifts, including private jet flights, luxury hotel stays and around $750,000 in campaign contributions. In exchange, Menendez allegedly went to bat for Melgen’s business interests at the highest levels of the federal government, seeking officials’ help in his $8.9 million Medicare dispute, attempting to get U.S. officials to pressure the Dominican Republic to honor a lucrative port security contract Melgen owned and securing visas for three of Melgen’s former girlfriends.
The defense does not dispute Menendez did favors for Melgen, but argues they were borne out of a 20-year friendship and that Melgen’s disputes with the federal government raised legitimate policy issues.
The trial begain Sept. 5. Deliberations are scheduled to resume at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.