Federal Judge Acquitted on 1 Count; Mistrial on 7 Others
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ A jury acquitted U.S. District Judge Robert Aguilar of an obstruction-of- just ice charge Monday but deadlocked on seven other felony counts. A prosecutor said Aguilar would be retried on those charges.
Aguilar was acquitted of a charge that he improperly approached another federal judge, Samuel Conti, to seek favorable treatment for a friend and creditor, Ronald Cloud, in a pending bank fraud trial.
The jury reported that it was unable to reach a verdict on the other charges after seven days of deliberations. U.S. District Judge Louis Bechtle declared a mistrial and scheduled proceedings on a possible retrial for June 4.
″It is the government’s present intention to retry all of the counts on which the jury was unable to reach a verdict,″ Justice Department prosecutor William Keefer told reporters.
Aguilar did not change expression when the jury’s verdict was read, but puffed his cheeks as if to release tension. He declined to comment afterward.
Patrick Hallinan, a lawyer for Aguilar, said he was pleased that ″the jury did not buy the government’s allegations of racketeering and corruption in our courts,″ but said he was disappointed the judge was not completely vindicated.
Aguilar remains free without bail pending a retrial. The 58-year-old judge from San Jose, who was appointed to the federal bench in 1980 by President Carter, can be removed from office only by Congress.
One juror, Joan McErlean of San Francisco, said after the verdict that the vote stood at 7-5 to convict Aguilar on one of the charges, disclosing a wiretap to its target. She said substantial majorities favored acquittal on the other counts.
″The majority felt that the prosecution did not prove its case,″ she told reporters. ″There was no motive. They could not prove there was a meeting of the minds between the judge and anybody else.″
However, she said nine jurors felt Aguilar had committed one of the illegal acts that was a part of the alleged pattern of racketeering: helping Vera Hoff, his friend and former legal secretary, remain a fugitive in Mexico on a tax evasion conviction.
Aguilar’s attorneys have accused the Justice Department of targeting him as a liberal who had ruled against the government. The department denied any political motivation.
Aguilar has issued rulings restricting factory sweeps by immigration agents, limiting aerial raids on suspected marijuana fields, and stopping the government from excluding people from the country because of homosexuality.
The counts on which the jury deadlocked included two against Aguilar’s co- defendants, former Teamster leader Rudy Tham and Abe Chapman, an 83-year- old ex-convict who had been related to Aguilar by marriage.
They and Aguilar were charged with plotting to use the judge’s influence to seek a new trial for Tham on a 1980 embezzlement conviction by having Aguilar speak to U.S. District Judge Stanley Weigel, who was hearing Tham’s case.
Aguilar said he only asked Weigel about the case’s status, which Weigel largely confirmed. Aguilar also said he was only bragging, without foundation, when he told a friend in a secretly taped conversation that Weigel was indebted to him and would never reveal their contacts.
Aguilar also denied trying to influence Judge Conti in Cloud’s case, the charge on which he was acquitted.
Conti testified that Aguilar telephoned him in early 1987, and said Cloud was ″an old man ... and he’s a friend of mine.″ Conti said he considered the comments inappropriate and changed the subject, but didn’t view it as an attempt to obstruct justice.
Aguilar testified that he only intended to ask Conti whether he could testify as a character witness for Cloud.