NEW YORK – Rep. Chris Collins on Friday was dealt his first courtroom defeat in the felony insider trading case against him, as a judge here rejected the Collins attorneys' request for more details about the charges he's facing.
The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Vernon S. Broderick highlighted a two and a half hour hearing that seemed to serve as a preview for what's to come in the case against the Clarence Republican, his son Cameron and his son's prospective father-in-law, Stephen Zarsky.
Prosecutors, defense attorneys and Broderick belabored both major and minor issues in such detail that they only worked their way through eight of the 27 questions the judge had hoped to answer. Broderick said he would try to schedule another hearing for next Friday to finish that agenda in what appears to be an increasingly complicated case.
The evidence gathered so far is "very voluminous," noted Jonathan Barr, a defense attorney for Collins. "It's hundreds of thousands of pages."
Even so, the Collins defense team wanted to see even more evidence. That's why it filed a motion aiming to force prosecutors to deliver a "bill of particulars" in the case, spelling out the 11 charges against each of the three defendants in far more detail than the indictment handed down last August.
Broderick denied that motion, saying it would force prosecutors to divulge too much of the case they intend to make against the defendants.
"The indictment provides defendants with more than sufficient information on the charges so that the defense can prepare for trial," Broderick said.
Broderick also informally dismissed any hope the defense might have had to get the trial moved out of New York, a possibility the defense team raised in court filings. The judge said he would not consider that issue of "venue" before the trial in the case.
Collins and his co-defendants are scheduled to go on trial Feb. 2, 2020. They are charged with fraud, conspiracy and lying to the FBI.
According to the indictment, in June 2017 Rep. Collins gave his son inside information that they knew would drive down the stock price of Innate Immunotherapeutics, an Australian biotech in which they were both heavily invested. The indictment says that set off a chain of illegal stock trades in which Cameron Collins and Zarsky dumped their Innate shares before the stock price tanked.
Rep. Collins and the other defendants have maintained their innocence.
The congressman's defense to date has focused heavily on the Constitution's "Speech or Debate Clause," which aims to shield information tied to the legislative process from the reach of prosecutors.
Collins' lawyers have been demanding to see far more evidence than the prosecutors have turned over in the pretrial "discovery" process.
Their aim is to review that material to see if prosecutors scooped up information that, under the Constitution, they never should have seen. That would give the defense the argument that such evidence can't be used at trial, or that the charges should be dropped entirely.
That matter seems a long way from being resolved, but it will likely get its first full court hearing next Friday. Of the 19 unanswered questions on Broderick's agenda, 14 involve the Speech or Debate Clause.
"We haven't made that much progress today," the judge acknowledged.
Friday's hearing focused on court matters much more routine than the Speech or Debate Clause.
The judge and the lawyers hammered out the parameters of additional information that prosecutors must turn over to the defense. As in all federal cases, prosecutors will have to hand over any evidence that may actually help the defense, as well as any information pertaining to nonprosecution agreements prosecutors may have struck with potential witnesses.
Those talks proved nonproductive at one point because the defendants were given permission to miss the hearing. Broderick posed a question that required the direct agreement of the defendants, so the defense team said it would have to get back to the judge with answers.
Broderick indicated that he may not excuse Collins and the other defendants from future court hearings.
"I have questions for them, also," he said.