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Menendez jury resumes talks as judge mulls new instructions

Tue., Nov. 14, 2017, 9:57 p.m.

New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez leaves the federal courthouse in Newark, N.J., Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017. (Seth Wenig / Associated Press)
New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez leaves the federal courthouse in Newark, N.J., Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017. (Seth Wenig / Associated Press)

NEWARK, N.J. – Jurors in the bribery trial of U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez and a wealthy friend could hear new instructions from the judge Wednesday as they resume deliberations.

The panel finished Tuesday without reaching a unanimous verdict on any of the 18 counts against the New Jersey Democrat and Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen.

Deliberations began last week, but the jury restarted Monday after a juror was excused for a previously scheduled vacation and was replaced by an alternate. Jurors sent a note to U.S. District Judge William Walls at the end of the day Monday saying they were deadlocked, but he told them to keep going and to “take as much time as you need.”

Walls could instruct them when they return Wednesday morning that they can reach a verdict on some counts but not others. He also could give them what is referred to as an Allen charge, named after the defendant in a more than century-old case. It is given to a deadlocked jury and urges jurors who are voting against the majority to reconsider their positions to avoid a mistrial.

In arguments with attorneys after the jury left for the day Tuesday, Walls said he has not “come close” to giving an Allen charge in his years on the bench.

Defense attorneys also told Walls that they want him to convey to the jury that a deadlock can be an acceptable outcome as well, something they said he did not do in his instructions earlier in the day. At that time, Walls told jurors, “do not hesitate to re-examine your own views” but also “do not surrender your honest conviction as to the weight or effect of evidence solely because of the opinion of your fellow jurors, or for the mere purpose of returning a verdict.”

Outside court, Menendez said he appreciated “the jurors who have been standing up for my innocence during the course of jury deliberations.”

The trial is in its 11th week. Menendez and Melgen are charged with running a bribery scheme between 2006 and 2013 in which Menendez lobbied government officials on Melgen’s behalf in exchange for luxury vacations and flights on Melgen’s private plane.

The men each face about a dozen counts including bribery, fraud and conspiracy. Menendez also is charged with making false statements for failing to report Melgen’s gifts on Senate disclosure forms.

Both men deny the allegations. Defense attorneys sought to show jurors that the two men are longtime pals who exchanged gifts out of friendship. They also contended Menendez’s meetings with government officials were focused on broad policy issues.

A mistrial would aid Menendez by not subjecting him to pressure to step down in the event of a conviction. Conversely, the charges likely would be hanging over him as he seeks re-election next year, assuming the government seeks a retrial.