Accused Thief Spars With Judge on Eve of Trial

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Accused art fraudster Luke Brugnara and U.S. District Judge William Alsup continued their months-long skirmish at a hearing Wednesday, this time over minute evidentiary details as Brugnara’s case heads to trial next week.
     As Alsup steadily ticked off a long list of motions brought by Brugnara, the U.S. government, and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office – Brugnara is currently being held at the Glenn Dyer Jail in Oakland – Brugnara relentlessly leapt to his own defense, since he is now representing himself.
     “I’m just a poor district judge who is trying his best,” Alsup said, “and I cannot get a sentence completed without being interrupted.”
     A former real estate mogul, Brugnara was accused in a federal indictment last year of ordering and receiving more than $11 million worth of art and then claiming it was a gift.
     In February, during a meeting with his former court-appointed attorney Erik Babcock, Brugnara absconded from the San Francisco Federal Building and was at large for six days before being returned to federal custody.
     Wednesday’s hearing brought up some of the case’s well-trod issues, like Brugnara’s unconventional choice to appear pro se.
     “The jury will say, ‘My God, Mr. Brugnara is representing himself! What kind of kangaroo court is this?'” Alsup said. “I’ll have to say that we offered him a lawyer, and he turned it down.”
     Alsup also read a transcript of one of Brugnara’s telephone conversations with his mother from jail, in which he said he planned to say whatever he wanted at trial because “once it’s out of my mouth, the jury’s heard it.” According to the transcript, he claimed that this was why the court had discouraged him to go pro se.
     “Now I’m going to tell you right now that you can’t do that,” Alsup said after he read the transcript.
     “My mother is an old, dying woman,” Brugnara replied. “I said all that to placate her.”
     Also on the agenda was a sartorial item.
     “What do you want to wear to trial?” Alsup asked Brugnara. At Wednesday’s hearing he wore his jail uniform. Alsup offered him the option to have his wife bring him a suit.
     “If this was just about money, I’d just wear this,” Brugnara said. “But this is about my liberty, so for my family’s sake I can’t risk that.”
     Brugnara also claimed to have “some really interesting, groundbreaking, earth-shattering information that even the government doesn’t know.”
     He added, “It’s going to make some really nice bedtime reading tonight for everybody.”
     As the hearing progressed, Brugnara decided to switch gears and play the martyr.
     “I produced more for this country than all of them combined,” he said, pointing to Robin Harris and Ben Kingsley, the federal prosecutors. “They’re a parasite on this country.”
     “Are you going to make that argument to the jury?” Alsup asked.
     “If I have to,” Brugnara said. “Drag me out in chains. So do it.”
     The court also took time to hear Brugnara’s claim that his cell was outfitted with surveillance in the form of “all-seeing eye globes,” which an Alameda County sheriff’s deputy repeatedly testified did not exist in the jail’s housing units.
     “Let’s make a deal,” Brugnara said to Alsup. “You let me go today and I’ll show you the all-seeing eye. I’ll bet my life that there’s a camera there. Let’s drive over there now, in recess.”
     Alsup did not take the deal.
     But even after protests of inadequate access to the phone and the law library from jail, Brugnara assured Alsup of his faith in the judge’s judicial fitness.
     “I want you to know that I believe you’re fair,” he said.
     The case is set to go to trial on April 27.

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