Rep. Chris Collins' next court date is set for Thursday, but the Republican from Clarence won't be there.
Collins, his son Cameron and Cameron's prospective father-in-law — all indicted on federal insider trading charges — have asked to be excused from the status conference in the criminal case. And on Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Vernon S. Broderick ruled that the defendants can skip that court appearance.
In a letter to Broderick, Collins' lawyers said he would miss the court date because October is a "district work month" for House members, meaning Collins planned to be at home in his Buffalo-area congressional district. Cameron Collins and his fiance's father, Stephen Zarsky, plan to be at their homes in New Jersey, the Collins legal team said.
There's nothing unusual about a criminal defendant seeking approval to miss a procedural court appearance, and nothing unusual about a judge granting that approval.
But in this case, those moves have political implications. Collins is running for re-election and facing an aggressive challenge from Democrat Nathan McMurray, the Grand Island town supervisor. And by avoiding his court date next week, Collins avoids the campaign-season pictures and video clips of him entering and leaving the federal courthouse where he is set to stand trial someday.
That's a fact that McMurray noted on Twitter.
"COLLINS IS TRYING TO HIDE — this time not from me, BUT from the judge!" he tweeted.
COLLINS IS TRYING TO HIDE—this time not from me, BUT from the judge! https://t.co/5deHUfT9eC
— Nate McMurray for Congress (@Nate_McMurray) October 4, 2018
Collins and his co-defendants have denied the charges against them. They also face civil charges from the Securities and Exchange Commission — and they sought to postpone a potentially embarrassing court date in that case on Friday as well.
The defendants in that civil case are scheduled to deliver their answer to the civil case against them by next Tuesday. But Zarsky's lawyer, acting on behalf of Collins and his son, asked the judge in that case on Friday for another 45 days in which to complete that legal filing.
That would push the filing, and any news stemming from it, until after Election Day.
Zarsky's lawyer also said in a letter to the judge in the SEC case that the Collins legal team is working on striking an agreement with prosecutors to seek a delay in the civil case until the criminal charges against the defendants are resolved. Such delays are common when the SEC and prosecutors file parallel cases.