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Sen. Menendez, his wife to be tried separately in bribery case

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez.  (Luiz C. Ribeiro)
By Benjamin Weiser and Tracey Tully New York Times

NEW YORK – The corruption trial of Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., will go forward as scheduled May 6, but his wife, Nadine Menendez, who was also charged, will be tried separately later, a Manhattan federal judge ruled Thursday.

The judge, Sidney H. Stein, issued his ruling after Nadine Menendez’s lawyers told him that she had a “serious medical condition” that would require surgery and a potentially extended period of treatment and recovery.

Neither of the Menendezes were in court Thursday. Before the judge issued his ruling, Adam Fee, one of the senator’s lawyers, urged him to keep the May 6 trial date.

“Every day that the specter of the unproven allegations are in the air as to our client is a detriment to him,” Fee said, arguing that a postponement could effectively hamper his ability to run in a general election.

“Every day of delay is prejudicial to him,” Fee added.

Nadine Menendez’s lawyers had asked the judge to postpone the trial for her alone because of her health issue. While federal prosecutors said they did not oppose a delay until the summer, they asked that the judge not try the Menendezes separately because that would mean holding two lengthy trials.

“The government expects that if this case were tried twice,” prosecutors wrote to the judge Wednesday, “it would have to present the same or substantially the same case, in full, a second time. That means picking a jury, a second time, and doing so after the case has already been tried once and a verdict has been returned.”

But Stein said that given the medical issues, he would sever Menendez’s trial from her husband’s. “The court will have to try this case twice,” the judge said.

The judge said he would set a July 8 trial date for Nadine Menendez, 57, but would hold a conference in June to determine whether that date was realistic.

Menendez’s lawyers first disclosed her health situation Tuesday in a two-page letter to the judge. They said she had recently been diagnosed with a condition that would require surgery in four to six weeks and “possibly significant follow-up and recovery treatment.”

“Given her medical circumstances,” the lawyers wrote, “Ms. Menendez is not able to assist her counsel in preparing for trial in the next four weeks.”

They did not publicly reveal the nature of her illness but provided details to the judge in a filing under seal to protect her privacy.

The Menendezes have been charged with accepting cash, gold bars and a luxury convertible in exchange for the senator’s willingness to use his political influence at home and on behalf of the governments of Egypt and Qatar. Two New Jersey businessmen have also been charged in the case. All four defendants have all pleaded not guilty.

The latest ruling comes several weeks after Bob Menendez said he would forgo running for reelection in a June Democratic primary, noting that the criminal charges he faced would preclude a meaningful discussion of policy issues. Menendez, 70, said he expected to prove at trial that he was not guilty, leaving the door open for a possible run for reelection as an independent in November.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.