Judge Ellis Apologizes in Paul Manafort’s Trial

judge apologizes, paul manafort trial, robert mueller
Artist rendering of the Paul Manafort trial Dana Verkouteren via AP

Judge Ellis Apologizes in Paul Manafort’s Trial

From the beginning, I’ve been reading reports on Judge Ellis, the judge presiding over the Paul Manafort trial. Words used so far are “colorful” and “rocket docket,” meaning he pushes his cases fast. No doubt there. However, what I’ve been curious about is how he will treat the defense when they put on their case.

The back and forth banter between Judge Ellis and the prosecutors is well documented, and when I read another report yesterday, my first question was if the jury was present during some of these verbal barbs. Apparently, the answer is yes.

Robert Mueller’s team put on the stand IRS agent Michael Welsh, who was inside the courtroom before he testified. To be clear, witnesses are rarely allowed inside the courtroom before they testify, but, Judge Ellis allowed it with the IRS agent which lead to the confrontation.

The prosecutor stated he would review the transcripts to confirm that Ellis had approved it, but Ellis responded with “well let me be clear: I don’t care what the transcript says.” Now think about that. Why bother having a transcript then?

As a result, Mueller’s legal team filed a five-page motion which stated in part that “the court’s reprimand of government counsel suggested to the jury- incorrectly- that the government had acted improperly and in contravention of court rules. This prejudice should be cured.”

Judges Ellis, which I give credit to, actually apologized by saying that “this robe doesn’t make me anything other than human.” The reasons I give him credit; in the past I’ve had to go toe-to-toe with several judges who could not be more wrong, and rather than admit it, they doubled down. I have had other judges apologize to me as well and you have to respect anyone that admits when they are wrong.

Judge Ellis when on to say that “any criticism of counsel should be put aside.” But, colorful personalities remain colorful, and when the prosecutors entered eleven pages of evidence, once again, Judge Ellis was out of line. This time saying “there might be some kind soul on the jury who thinks they need to leaf through all this stuff, and it isn’t true.”

It’s horrifying that a judge won’t make a statement like that before a jury. That statement more than implies don’t bother going through the evidence the prosecutor just submitted and could easily turn the members of the jury against the prosecutors.

Remember, Judge Ellis already accused one prosecutor of actually having his eyes tear up.

Judges are human. They have biases and they also have good days and bad days. Hopefully, the words of Judge Ellis won’t taint the jury, but at the pace he is going, I don’t know. That’s why I advocate that cameras be allowed inside federal courtrooms.

Alexander Hernandez, Esq.
Twitter @mcatty_alex

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