A U.S. judge barred the press and the public from hearing arguments about the introduction of evidence crucial to the prosecution's case in the bribery trial of former D.C. Superior Court Judge Robert H. Campbell late Monday, but reversed his decision yesterday.
The rest of the hearing was held in open court, and the judge agreed to make a transcript of the hour-long closed hearing available to the public.
U.S. District Judge Thomas A. Flannery, whose initial ruling was vigorously protested by the government, told the lawyers yesterday that he had concluded overnight "that in this criminal trial, it should be a public trial, and I see no good reason to conduct this matter out of the presence of the public or the press."
The jury that will decide the Campbell case had been outside the courtroom during all of the arguments about the introduction of evidence.
Flannery explained that his ruling yesterday was in conformance with a recent U.S. Supreme Court case, involving two Richmond newspapers, in which the high court said that the public has a constitutional right to attend criminal trials. That decision has been interpreted by lawyers to include the right to attend other proceedings essential to trials, such as hearings about evidence.
In announcing his decision to open the hearing, Flannery commented that he had reread the Virginia newspapers' case yesterday morning before he took the bench.
Defense lawyer Arnold M. Weiner, who represents one of Campbell's co-defendants in the bribery case, restated his objection to an open hearing following Flannery's ruling.
The closed hearing Monday took place at Flannery's bench in the well of the courtroom, where he was surrounded by defense lawyers, the government prosecutors and the defendants themselves.
According to the transcript of the hearing released yesterday, the lawyers argued during the closed hearing about the government's intention to introduce to the jury evidence alleging 117 unexplained cash deposits totaling about $25,000 in the judge's bank accounts during the years he is accused of taking bribes from Excavation Construction, Inc., a local construction firm. The government contends Campbell took $10,000 in cash and accepted favors in return for his favorable treatment of overweight truck tickets issued to the firm.
Defense lawyers wanted Flannery to block the government from using the bank deposit records. They argued that the prejudicial effect of those records on the former judge outweighed any value those records have as evidence in the case.They contended that if Flannery ultimately ruled out that evidence the jurors, who are not sequestered, might learn about it anyway in press reports, raising the possibility of a mistrial in the case. They urged Flannery to hold the evidentiary argument in secret.
All of the discussion about closing the hearing was conducted in a private bench conference. A Washington Post reporter later formally inquired of court staff why the hearing was being held at the judge's bench and raised the Richmond newspapers' case.
After a lengthy hearing yesterday, Flannery ruled that the government could introduce detailed evidence about 13 to 18 allegedly unexplained cash deposits in the former judge's bank accounts. Flannery said evidence on other allegedly unexplained deposits could be introduced in summary form, to limit possible prejudice to the former judge.
The bank deposit evidence is viewed as critical to the government's efforts to shore up the testimony of its key witness, who had testified earlier that he made cash payments to Campbell for the construction firm. The government also wants to use the bank evidence to show that the former judge was living beyond his means and had the motivation to take cash bribes.
The former judge, the general manager of Excavation Construction, Larry A. Campbell (no relation to the judge) and the firm itself, all are on trial for bribery, conspiracy and racketeering charges.