The U.S. Court of Appeals here cleared the way yesterday for a new bribery and conspiracy trial for former D.C. mayoral aide Joseph P. Yeldell and millionaire developer Dominic F. Antonelli Jr.
The appellate court ruled that U.S. District Court Judge Gerhard A. Gesell "acted within the bounds of (his) authorized jurisdiction in granting the new trial." Gesell ruled after it was learned that a joror who had helped convict Yeldell and Antonelli intentionally had withheld information than might have led defense lawyers to exclude her from the jury.
Government prosecutors in the case had asked the appeals court to reinstate the jury's guilty verdict. After yesterday's ruling, however, Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard L. Beizer said the government now would retry Yeldell and Antonelli. No date has been set for a new trial.
Defense lawyers have asked Gesell to move the case to a federal court outside Washington because of the heavy publicity here about the 3 1/2-week-long trial in October.
Gesell had ordered a new trial for Yeldell, a top aide to former mayor Walter E. Washington, and Antonelli, a real estate developer and parking lot magnate, after a surprise discolsure in late November that the juror, Diane P. Jones, had once had a small checking account at Madison National Bank.
Antonelli had been a founder, director and major stockholder in the Madison bank, which repeatedly was mentioned in criminal charges and testimony at the trial.
However, the appeals court decision by Judges Carl McGowan, Edward A. Tamm and Spottswood W. Robinson III was based on another nondisclosure development, Robert
Jones also had failed to tell defense lawyers, in answer to one of their questions during jury selection, that her father worked at Diplomat Parking Corp. Diplomat is not affiliated with Antonelli's firm, Parking Management Inc. (PMI).
Jones told Gesell at a hearing in November that when she was asked the question by defense lawyers she was aware that her father worked for Diplomat. Jones said she had no recollection that her father had earlier worked for PMI and had been fired from that company, a fact defense lawyers learned after the trial.
"We are of the view that, given the timely new trial motion (made by defense attorneys) based upon the parking lot information, there can be no serious contention that the District Court was without jurisdiction to entertain and act upon it," the appellate court said.
Moreover, the appeals court said that Gesell's explicit finding that the juror's failure to disclose the parking lot information was "material and intentional" and made it "clear that no more than that single breach of the integrity of the (questioning of prospective jurors) was needed to persuade (Gesell) to order a new trial."
The three-judge appeals panel said that the government's contention that Gesell erred in assessing the impact of Jones' nondisclosure was "beside the point." That was so, the court said, because in appeals such as the one brought by the government in the Yeldell-Antonelli case, the Supreme Court has rulled that a lower court ruling should only be overturned when there are "exceptional circumstances."
"The judgment of the trial court is not to be disturbed if there is any theory on which it can be rested," the appellate court said. "We find that, certainly with respect to the parking lot issue, the District Court acted within the bounds of its authorized jurisdiction in granting the new trial."
The court said that if the government feels "there is a strong public interest" in expanding its right to appeal such decisions by a trial judge, it should ask Congress to amend the federal criminal laws.
"They decided it right, no question about it," said John A. Shorter Jr., Yeldell's attorney. Antonelli's attorney, Edward Bennett Wiliams, could not be reached for comment and government prosecutor Beizer declined comment on the ruling.
Yeldell and Antonelli were convicted on Oct. 24 of corruptly conspiring to arrange an allegedly lucrative D.C. government lease of a Northwest Washington building from a partnership controlled by Antonelli. In return for Yeldell's assistance in securing the lease, Antonelli was found by the jury to have secretly given Yeldell a $33,000 personal loan after also helping him obtain other short-term loans from Madison National Bank.