New Corruption Trial for Ex-Mayor in Connecticut

     HARTFORD, Conn. (CN) — Former Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez is entitled to a new trial, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled Thursday, affirming the reversal of bribery and extortion convictions.
     In 2010, Perez was convicted of five bribery and extortion charges and sentenced to three years in prison, but never served any time.
     The charges involved the city contractor, Carlos Costa, doing $40,000 worth of home improvements for the mayor after Costa had been awarded a city street project. Costa testified that he never expected to be paid for the renovations and never gave Perez a quote for the work. He also never acquired the necessary building permits for it.
     Perez also sought to expedite payments to Costa’s company, USA Contractors, for the work he did for the city.
     Perez’s attorneys argued that Perez wanted to testify in the bribery case, but not the extortion one. While the cases were joined, his testimony would end up being considered for both charges.
     Perez’s attorneys wanted to sever the cases after assessing Costa as a witness, which they could not have done prior to the trial.
     A split Supreme Court found that failing to sever the cases was “an abuse of discretion because joinder of the cases, at that point in time, caused the defendant substantial prejudice.”
     Writing for the majority, Justice Richard Palmer said the state was not convincing in its argument for not severing the bribery and extortion cases into separate trials.
     “We conclude that the defendant timely made a compelling showing that he had important testimony to give in one case and a strong need to refrain from testifying in the other and, therefore, that the trial court had abused its discretion in declining to sever the cases,” Palmer wrote.
     He added, “Saving government resources through judicial economy is a legitimate concern. On the other side of the scale, however, is a defendant’s right to a fair trial at which his constitutional right to testify on his own behalf has not been unfairly impeded.”
     Palmer was joined in his opinion by Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers and Justices Andrew J. McDonald and Richard A. Robinson.
     Justice Christine S. Vertefeuille and Justice Peter T. Zarella disagreed.
     “The majority concludes that the trial court in the present case abused its discretion by denying the defendant’s first motion to sever because he wanted to testify in the bribery case, but not in the extortion case,” Vertefeuille wrote in her six-page dissent. “In my view, however, the majority has not afforded the trial court’s exercise of discretion the level of deference to which it is entitled. Because I am persuaded that the trial court acted properly within its discretion in declining to sever the cases on this basis, I respectfully dissent.”
     Chief State Attorney Kevin Kane said Thursday that the state will cooperate with the ruling.
     “It is the State’s intention to retry these matters in accordance with the Supreme Court decision,” Kane said in a statement.

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