Judge Kenneth M. Karas of United States District Court had declared a mistrial in the bribery and fraud trial of Sen. Malcolm A. Smith on a less than common objection: a lack of Yiddish translators. Smith was the Democratic majority leader and the minority leader of the State Senate. He is accused of working with a developer to give out envelopes of cash and gifts to leading Republicans to engineer a run on the Republican side for mayor to avoid a crowed Democratic field. His attorneys discovered 70 hours of taped conversations that were not disclosed by the prosecution — a third of which was in Yiddish. However, those wiretapped conversations could not be translated due to a lack of translators. That led to a kvetsh and a motion for mistrial. While the government argued that the defense was having a plotz for no reason, they looked like a bunch of shlemiels.
The testimony in White Plains was already pretty damning for Smith with accounts of cash filled envelopes and parties at strip clubs. The alleged recipients of more than $80,000 in bribes were Daniel J. Halloran III, a Republican former city councilman from Queens, and three Republican county leaders. One of of two co-defendants, Vincent Tabone, the former vice chairman of the Bronx Republican committee, is shown on a video receiving $25,000 in hundred-dollar bills in an S.U.V. parked outside a steak house in Manhattan.
The tapes came up in the cross examination of the first witness, Special Agent William McGrogan, who referenced recordings of wiretapped conversations between the key government informer, Moses Stern, and Dr. Joseph Frager, a Jewish activist. It was later discovered that there were also conversations between Mr. Stern and a Queens rabbi, Zalman Beck, that prosecutors had largely failed to turn over. Many of those calls were in Yiddish.
The jury could not be held for the period of translation which would take weeks so the court dismissed them.
Here is the most curious aspect of the ruling. The prosecutors withhold a significant number of clearly material interception (many of which the prosecutors could not have known the content given the Yiddish). Yet, Judge Karas dismissed any notion of “bad faith” by the prosecutors and said that prosecutors Douglas B. Bloom and Justin Anderson simply made a bad call in assuming that they were mistaken. Come again? This is precisely why the Justice Department is routinely accused of withholding evidence, including trials like Ted Stevens that result in disastrous reversals. Prosecutors are not held accountable by federal judges. Defense lawyers privately complain that federal judges do not hesitate to hammer them for the slightest violations but that many are former prosecutors who are sympathetic or heavily identify with prosecutors in such controversies. I have seen former prosecutors serve as judges with great distinction and fairness. However, I do believe that the Justice Department has a long and troubling history of withholding evidence and engaging in questionable trial conduct. There is very little deterrent from the courts or from the widely ridiculed internal review process of the Justice Department.
By the way, none of this matters to the voters of the 14th Senate District which has kept Smith in office.
Source: New York Times