In mix-up, jurors find out about guilty plea
A federal court on Thursday struggled with a mix-up that improperly revealed information to jurors about a pending case as they deliberated the fate of a former lobbyist caught up in the Jack Abramoff influence peddling scandal.
Former congressman John T. Doolittle, who represented the Fourth Congressional District including Nevada County, has been named as a co-conspirator in the case against his former aide, Kevin Ring. His wife, Julie Doolittle, is another unindicted co-conspirator. No charges have been filed against the Doolittles.
U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle denied a request for a mistrial by lawyers for defendant Ring. She told the jury to disregard information about a plea agreement involving another person central in the case, Robert Coughlin.
“Put it out of your mind,” Huvelle said.
Ring’s lawyers said jurors’ knowledge of Coughlin’s plea agreement would taint their view of Ring, since Ring frequently had dealings with Coughlin, a former Justice Department official.
Coughlin pleaded guilty to a conflict of interest regarding assistance he provided to Abramoff’s lobbying firm in return for tickets to sporting events and concerts and meals at upscale restaurants.
Justice Department prosecutors were supposed to have removed references to the plea agreement from court files handed to jurors.
The Ring trial, more than a year in the making, went to the jury on Monday. The disclosure came on the fourth day of jury deliberations.
Ring is charged with conspiracy, paying gratuities and scheming to defraud taxpayers of the honest services of several public officials in the congressional and executive branches of government.
Republican leaders persuaded the once-powerful Doolittle not to run for a 10th term in the House of Representatives because of the investigations surrounding his own relationship to Abramoff.
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