So far the best lines from the trial of the ex-Bear Stearns fund mangers have come from the judge.
Unfortunately for the prosecutors, it’s often been at the prosecution’s expense. Judge Frederic Block has prodded the prosecutors and made pointed comments to at least one witness.
The WSJ Law Blog pointed out in August that Judge Frederic Block may be a good draw for defendants Ralph Cioffi and Matthew Tannin because he’s previously departed from sentencing guidelines to give less than suggested jail time in a securities case, he’s likely already being appreciated by the defence for refusing to cut the prosecution any slack.
- The Judge became frustrated with the “reams” of documents being put into evidence and seemed to think it was an effective way of doing things. “We have a lot of papers here … I doubt jurors are going to read all 530 of those documents. But this is how the government chooses to present its case. Continue.” DealBook
- When prosecutors tried to exclude a Cioffi email saying he was trying “to save” the fund’s limited partners, the judge stepped in. “What’s wrong with having a plan that saves his L.P.’s? It shows his state of mind, that he is still trying to actively salvage the day.” DealBook
- Prosecution witness Shelley Bergman, a former Bear financial advisor, said that the defendants did not properly disclose risks and misled investors, but it was also revealed he personally lost a lot of money and is blaming the collapse of the funds on Cioffi and Tannin in an arbitration in which he is a respondent. The judge did not let that point slip by the jury when the prosecutor asked the witness why he was frustrated when the funds halted redemptions in the summer of 2007. “Because you lost your money, right?” Judge Block asked. DealBook
- In discussing evidence the prosecution wants to enter showing Cioffi skirted Bear rules and pledged his hedge fund investments as collateral for Floriday real estate, the judge seemed unimpressed. “If the focus is going to be what happened to [the Florida bank], this has nothing to do with this trial….It really tries to paint the defendant as dirty, and I’m troubled by, frankly, that collateral matter.” The Am Law Litigation Daily.
Though Judge Block does not have much experience presiding over securities cases, his courtroom has seen high-profile trials, including those of John Gotti’s brother, Peter (above is a sketch from that trial) and of nightclub owner Peter Gatien.
Judge Block is not a stickler for ceremony. In Amir Efrati’s profile of him for The Wall Street Journal, he notes that Block sometimes doesn’t wear his black judicial robe and doesn’t require lawyers and spectators to stand up when he enters the room.
Though Block has been tough on the prosecution so far (unlike most judges, he is not a former prosecutor), he’s also known for being fair. Which means when the defence is on display, it will be their turn to be focus of his constructive criticism.
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