WASHINGTON – As expected, Rep. Chris Collins plans to appeal a federal judge's ruling that defense lawyers are not entitled to see more evidence to check if federal officials violated the lawmaker's constitutional rights in investigating the insider trading allegations he faces.
Lawyers for Collins, a Clarence Republican, filed a notice in federal court in Manhattan late Friday telling the judge that they would be appealing his ruling on evidence pertaining to the Constitution's "Speech or Debate Clause." That clause bars prosecutors and other federal officials from interfering with the legislative duties of members of Congress.
Along with that notice, Collins' lawyers sent Judge Vernon S. Broderick a letter that offered details of their appeal strategy – which could perhaps force a delay in Collins' trial, set for next Feb. 3.
Broderick had asked defense lawyers to say if they planned to cite the Speech or Debate clause in separate motion to dismiss the charges against Collins. In response, Jonathan R. Barr, a lawyer for Collins, wrote: "Congressman Collins does not anticipate filing any further motions in this Court bearing on the Speech or Debate Clause during the pendency of this appeal."
Barr said Collins doesn't plan to file any more Speech or Debate motions "at this time." But that doesn't bar Collins from filing a motion to dismiss once the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals rules on his appeal of the motion seeking more evidence.
Concerned that Speech or Debate appeals could delay the trial, prosecutors have suggesting splitting the trial in two. In that scenario, Collins' alleged accomplices in the insider trading scheme – his son Cameron Collins and Stephen Zarsky, Cameron Collins' future father-in-law – would go on trial as scheduled on Feb. 3, with the congressman facing jurors at an undetermined later date.
Collins' lawyers have objected to the idea of splitting the trial in two, saying it would be waste of time and resources.
Because the Speech or Debate Clause is enshrined in the Constitution, motions involving it can be appealed before a case can go to trial. A Buffalo News analysis earlier this year found that no indicted lawmaker citing the clause won freedom because of it in the past 50 years – but that legal battles over the Speech or Debate Clause caused several of those cases to drag on for years.
Federal lawmakers who are under arrest routinely rely on that clause as part of their defense, and Collins' lawyers have done the same, arguing they need to see more evidence to determine just how badly investigators trampled on Collins' Speech or Debate rights.
In his ruling earlier this month, though, Broderick would have none of that.
"I find that Defendant Christopher Collins is not legally entitled to the discovery he asserts bears on the privilege established by the Speech or Debate Clause, and so his motion to compel limited production of those materials is DENIED," Broderick wrote.
But thanks to the Speech or Debate Clause, Broderick also barred some evidence from being used at Collins' trial. The lawmaker's interview with the Office of Congressional Ethics, other transcripts produced during that office's probe, and any documents used in that separate Congressional investigation are all off limits, Broderick ruled.
In addition, Broderick said prosecutors will not be allowed to cite any testimony concerning the effect of any legislation on Innate Immunotherapeutics, the Australian biotech at the heart of the insider trading case.
At a hearing in the case on Sept. 12, Broderick gave Collins' legal team until this coming Monday to file a notice of appeal.
Collins, a longtime Innate Immunotherapeutics board member, stands accused of giving his son inside information that the company's one product failed in clinical trials – a fact that would, when it became public, drive down Innate's stock price more than 90 percent.
Prosecutors say Collins' son Cameron acted on that tip and dumped Innate shares based on that inside information, thereby saving himself from $570,900 in losses. Government lawyers say Cameron Collins tipped off Zarsky, who then dumped his Innate shares, avoiding $143,900 in losses.
Collins, his son and Zarsky all face charges of fraud, conspiracy and lying to an FBI agent.