VOL. 122 | NO. 241 | Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Ford, Lee to be Tried Separately on Corruption Charges
By Andy Meek
U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays ruled late today that City Council member Edmund Ford and former Memphis Light, Gas &Water Division president Joseph Lee will be tried separately on corruption charges.
The ruling could lead to other pre-trial moves by the defense before what had been a scheduled Jan. 7 trial date on Lee and Ford on all charges.
“The superseding indictment in this case charges Lee and Ford with two sets of charges that are not ‘logically interrelated,’” Mays wrote, quoting from similar legal cases. “This results in misjoinder under Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure … and severance is therefore mandatory.”
The rules bar prosecutors from using a single set of charges that deal with unrelated alleged actions.
“Other than the criminal statutes under which the charges are brought, overtones of corruption and Ford’s common involvement, there is no purported relation between the alleged payments surrounding the land use issue and the alleged quid pro quo between Ford and Lee involving MLGW,” Mays ruled.
Lee’s attorney, Robert Spence, when asked by The Daily News if Mays ruling might be the basis for an eventual motion to dismiss charges said, “I don’t want to say anything that might sway the opinion of the court. But I can say that we’re reviewing the court’s order and planning our next move.”
In the 11-page ruling, Mays criticized the government’s decision to join Lee and Ford in a superseding indictment returned by a grand jury in July that included previous corruption charges against Ford that have no connection to Lee. Those earlier charges, filed in late 2006, accuse Ford of taking bribes from former County Commissioner Joe Cooper in an investigation in which Cooper was wearing a wire for the FBI.
Mays granted Lee’s motion for separate trials for the two even on the set of corruption charges that allege Ford supported Lee politically in return for Lee letting Ford get away with not paying his business utility bills for years.
Ford’s motion for severance differed from Lee’s. Ford’s motion sought merely to try the two sets of corruption charges separately. In that scenario, Ford and Lee would have been tried together and then Ford would have been tried again in the case involving Cooper.
Mays also commented Wednesday on the different nature of the case involving Lee and Ford when compared with Ford’s bribery charges involving Cooper.
“There is no allegation of an express agreement. Rather the alleged preferential treatment appears to be in consideration or as a reward for Ford’s previous support,” Mays wrote.
The prosecution speculated in a recent court filing that a trial of Ford and Lee together on the MLGW charges would last at least two weeks. If the defendants were tried separately on the MLGW charges, that would be four weeks. As for the earlier charges against Ford, prosecutors estimated that trial might take a week.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Larry Laurenzi could not be reached for comment on the ruling late Wednesday afternoon. Neither could Michael Scholl, Ford’s attorney in the matter.
All sides in the case are due before Mays Thursday afternoon for a report date.