Fortenberry trial attorney fined $500 for comments in court

OMAHA, Neb. (Nebraska) — Lawyer for former Nebraska Congressman Jeff Fortenberry has been fined $500 for his conduct at trial.

In delivering his ruling Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Stanley Blumenfeld Jr. ruled that Los Angeles attorney John Littrell “acted in bad faith,” according to court documents.

Before Fortenberry’s jury in March, Littrell made closing arguments in court over whether an FBI congressman lied about illegal campaign contributions. Fortenberry did not testify – which is his constitutional right – and the judge told the jury that they should not interpret his decision not to do so.

But defense attorney Littrell told jurors that, in a sense, Fortenberry did testify because they heard his voice in the audiotapes played during the six days of the trial, and that his client would not have added anything if he had testified because that his memory was bad. This day is no better.

It was then that the government objected, asking the lawyer to explain himself as soon as possible.

“The court charged Littrell with the inappropriateness of his comments on Fortenberry’s decision not to testify. In response, Littrell made it clear that he had heard the court’s warning to the jury and made a considered decision to consider Fortenberry’s refusal to testify, which he felt he “should have dealt with,” recent documents say.

The court documents include an exchange between the judge and Littrell that took place after the jury was sent to debate the Fortenberry case. The included conversation ended with Littrell’s apology:

“Of course I wasn’t trying to be unfair. And you know, Your Honor, we’re doing our best. I’ll tell you this, having been doing this for a long time: the jury has a real problem with this, and I think that’s why the Court emphasized that the instruction exists because the jury is really struggling with this, and therefore I feel obligated to do something. say about it. “, he said, according to the notes. “But if I have gone too far, and the Court thinks I have gone too far, I certainly apologize. And I think I would recognize that the risk falls on the defense when we I don’t – I felt it was a fair comment on the problem and on the instructions on the problem, but certainly reasonable minds might disagree with that.”

However, the court filed an “order to present cause” against Littrell, who then hired his own attorney and filed a response, “asking the court to set aside the order, according to court documents.

But the judge objected to the lawyer’s main citation of US v. Robinson, saying that the lawyer “misread it.”

“In this case, the defendant in custody argued that the government did not allow the defendant to explain his side of the story,” the judge said in his response.

Littrell also cited Griffin v. California, arguing that “although prosecutors are prohibited from commenting on a defendant’s decision not to testify, this does not constitute misconduct on the part of counsel.”

But the judge referred to a case in which the Supreme Court overturned an appellate court’s decision on the matter.

“The Court of Appeal held that the defendant was denied a fair trial because Griffin forbade the prosecutor to directly refer to the fact that the defendant did not testify, ”says Blumenfeld’s court documents. “The Supreme Court reversed, finding that the Court of Appeal had read Griffin too broad and believes that “the prosecutor’s statement that the defendant could explain his story to the jury did not violate the defendant’s rights under the Fifth Amendment in the light of counsel’s comments.”

Littrell must pay the fine by April 17.

Fortenberry has several other attorneys, one of whom has filed an appeal in his case. The former congressman believes he was the victim of a government frame-up. For the conviction, he could have received 15 years in federal prison, but instead the same judge sentenced him to probation.

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