Delay in Translating Recordings May Affect Jury Availability at New York State Senator Malcolm A. Smith’s Trial

Malcolm A. Smith Credit Anthony Lanzilote for The New York Times
Malcolm A. Smith Credit Anthony Lanzilote for The New York Times

A mistrial in the federal government’s bribery case against State Senator Malcolm A. Smith and two other defendants seemed highly possible on Monday after the judge said he would ask jurors whether they could serve into mid-July so defense lawyers could digest dozens of hours of conversation in Yiddish and English.The 12 jurors and three alternates were originally told the trial would be over by late June. But the decision by Judge Kenneth M. Karas of U.S. District Court to extend the trial for a week or two — the judge said he would decide more precisely on Tuesday how long a hiatus he would impose — could mean some jurors would have to leave for summer vacations, while others might not be able to serve because of conflicts like medical appointments.

The trial had been held up by the difficulty of translating Yiddish conversations recorded by a Rockland County businessman, Moses Stern, who has pleaded guilty to undisclosed charges in a $126 million fraud investigation. While the government said it has found 27 Yiddish translators, Mr. Smith’s lawyer, Gerald L. Shargel, cautioned that volunteers have appeared without proper vetting and some of what the government has turned over has been “gibberish.”

“There are a lot of odd people, Yiddish-speaking oddballs or alleged Yiddish-speaking oddballs,” he said of the translators who have called his office volunteering to work on transcribing.

The trial of Mr. Smith, a Democrat from Queens accused of conspiring to bribe Republican county leaders to authorize his run for mayor in 2013 on the Republican ticket, began two weeks ago with the selection of a jury. There have since been roughly seven days of prosecution testimony, including by the chief witness, an F.B.I. undercover agent who has provided a running commentary on dozens of conversations with the defendants that the bureau secretly recorded.

But it emerged on Thursday that the government had failed to turn over more than 70 hours of recordings — 28 of them in Yiddish — of wiretapped conversations conducted on Mr. Stern’s telephones by voice or text. The government prosecutors said on Monday the conversations were “completely innocent,” containing no “game changers” or “blockbusters.” The defense lawyers argued that they might contain exculpatory material that could bolster their contention that their clients were entrapped into arranging and receiving bribes.

Mr. Shargel moved for a mistrial, arguing that simply listening to and analyzing the recordings was “a herculean task” that could take weeks to achieve and burden the jury.

Judge Karas said he would poll the jurors and alternates to see if enough members could serve until the trial’s conclusion.

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Source: The New York Times | 

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