MANHATTAN (CN) – Setting the Republican congressman’s trial date for the year 2020, a federal judge overruled concerns Thursday about putting Representative Chris Collins on trial while he seeks re-election.
Indicted in August on insider-trading charges, Collins holds the distinction of being the first sitting member of Congress to endorse President Donald Trump.
Prosecutors say the 68-year-old tipped friends and family about failed clinical testing of a multiple sclerosis drug at the company Innate Immunotherapeutics, an Australian biotechnology company on whose board of directors Collins served.
At the case’s first hearing on Thursday afternoon, Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Hartman urged the court to fast-track Collins’ trial so that it need not stretch into the next general election.
“So, what we're worried about is if this gets pushed too far into 2020, there's going to be an argument, ‘Well, it should be adjourned another year because he can't go to trial while he's standing reelection,’” Hartman said. “And so, our view, judge, is that these allegations need to be resolved sooner rather than later.”
Defense attorney Jonathan New meanwhile accused prosecutors of trying to maximize the political impact of their case.
“I think it's worth noting that this office rushed to bring this case before this current [2018 midterm] election, and Mr. Collins has not had an opportunity to go to trial before then,” said New, an attorney at Baker & Hostetler. “So, they didn't seem to care too much at that point in time about the impacts of the election, which of course they don't. They're the government. The election doesn't matter to them. There's no politics involved here. So, I don't know why he even raised that here today, your honor.”
Harman shot back that a long road to trial will also give more time for Collins to try the case in the court of public opinion.
“It is our view, judge, that there is a strong public interest in having these allegations resolved in 2019,” Hartman said. “The congressman has been on television declaring his innocence, judge. As he should, it's his right.”
U.S. District Judge Vernon Broderick delivered an oblique reply to news of the congressman's media blitz.
“The fact that someone declares their innocence, that can either be through counsel or it can be through the defendant,” Broderick said. “I understand that the defendant perhaps has more of a bully pulpit than your average defendant.”
“I’ll just leave it at that,” the judge added.
Standing trial with Collins will be his son, Cameron Collins, and Stephen Zarsky, who is the father of the son’s fiancee. Prosecutors claim that the congressman’s tips saved Zarsky $143,000 in losses and that the younger Collins avoided more than $570,000 losses after selling 1.39 million shares of Innate.
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