Lawyer Accuses Government of ‘Cherry Picking’ Campaign Violations to Prosecute Newton
The second corruption trial of former state Sen. Ernie Newton got off to a contentious start Tuesday in Hartford Superior Court, where his lawyer accused prosecutors of withholding documents from the defense.
Newton, who resigned from office and served more than four years in federal prison after he pleaded guilty in 2005 to taking a bribe, has been accused of campaign finance violations during his unsuccessful 2012 campaign for his old Senate seat representing Bridgeport. Newton ultimately lost the Democratic primary to Andres Ayala.
Prosecutors say Newton submitted false documentation to obtain a $80,550 public financing grant. After coming up about $500 short of the $15,000 in contributions he needed to raise to qualify for the grant, the state contends that Newton had five campaign workers sign cards stating they had contributed to the campaign when in fact they had not.
He has been charged with one count of first degree larceny, five counts of illegal campaign practices, and one count of tampering with a witness. Judge Julia D. Dewey told the jury his trial will take about seven days.
Early during the first day of trial, Newton’s lawyer, Darnell D. Crosland, asked prosecutors for any written record of the complaint that led to Newton’s criminal investigation. The complaint, which came from one of the five campaign workers, was made orally and prosecutors said they had no record of it beyond notes from an investigator.
Crosland questioned that assertion later in the day when a witness, Andrew Cascudo, an elections officer at the State Elections Enforcement Commission, referenced a type of call log sometimes used by the agency.
Crosland objected and said prosecutors never provided him with the “ticket” Cascudo had referenced. He said he was just now learning of the ticket system.
“It’s a violation of discovery and it affronts my clients rights,” Crosland said after the six-person jury had been ushered from the courtroom.
Kevin Shay, an assistant state’s attorney, disagreed. Shay said his office had provided Crosland with the tickets long before the trial began.
“Many, many, many of them — all of the tickets I have here were provided to counsel more than a year and a half ago,” he said.
Dewey said she would accept Shay’s account. Crosland conceded the document could have been among the “voluminous” documents he had received on the case. Dewey said they were not that voluminous.
“It was 300 pages,” she said. “In a criminal case that’s relatively minor.”
Most of the testimony during the first day, came from John Neumon, a former SEEC employee who oversaw the agency’s campaign audit and disclosure unit during Newton’s primary campaign.
Prosecutors called Neumon to testify to the jury that without the five allegedly fraudulent donations, Newton would have fallen short of qualifying for public financing. On cross examination, Crosland tried to get Neumon to testify to other issues, like whether similar violations are usually handled as civil matters.
When the state objected, Crosland said it was not fair that Newton be unfairly targeted for prosecution.
“You can’t just go cherry picking — okay this one is going to criminal court,” he said. Judge Joan Alexander, the judge who handled the pretrial phases of Newton’s case, “went through this at length,” he said.
“I’m not Judge Alexander and we are in criminal court right now,” Dewey said. “As far as why some people are raised in civil court and some people are in criminal, that’s not relevant here counselor.”