Judge T.S. Ellis III has emerged as much a character as any lawyer, witness or juror in the courtroom for the tax and bank fraud trial of Paul Manafort. He’s quibbled and quarreled with lawyers, needled prosecutors over “extraneous” evidence and at times irked witnesses.
On Wednesday, lawyers moved through questioning of Rick Gates, an FBI accountant and an IRS agent. As dry testimony dominated the day, the judge’s personality once again came into full display.
Here are some key exchanges from the seventh day of the Manafort’s Virginia trial.
“Don’t try my patience.”
After Rick Gates’ examination wrapped up, prosecutors called FBI forensic accountant Morgan Magionos. She described how Manafort avoided reporting foreign income by transferring money from his foreign bank accounts into the pockets of various domestic vendors, such as a home improvement company, a clothier and others.
But for a quarter-hour leading up to her testimony, Ellis quarreled with prosecutors over the redundancy of the testimony—a recurring theme of the trial.
Manafort defense attorney Richard Westling took issue with some of the evidence she was about to raise—charts noting some of Manafort’s payments to vendors—arguing it was repetitive of what domestic vendors who had already testified. “We’ve heard it all before,” he said.
But prosecutor Greg Andres disagreed. While vendors had testified about the “domestic half,” Magionos would capture the “whole picture” of the flow of money, he said.
When Ellis urged Andres to move things along, Andres fought back. The government, he said, had sharply focused its case for a long time and was not delaying the trial.
Ellis fired back: “I’m not saying you are.”
Later, on whether the lawyers on both sides had an agreement about what kinds of evidence could be introduced, Andres said “I apologize” if this seems argumentative, before he noted that defense lawyers hadn’t offered a stipulation. At that point, Westling said he would offer one.
“I’m at a loss. We’ve prepared our case, we’re ready to go,” Andres said. “And the defense now wants to stipulate? It would be quicker to get the witness on.”
The judge let the argument die down, but not without issuing a joke combined with a warning.
“Judges should be patient. They made a mistake when they confirmed me,” Ellis said to courtroom laughter. “Don’t try my patience.”
During Magionos’ testimony, the courtroom broke for lunch. Just before, Andres told the judge he had about an hour of direct examination of the FBI accountant left to go.
“I thought we were shortening it,” the judge said with a small smile.
Ellis Takes Aim at Another Prosecutor:
Just before bringing in the day’s third witness—Michael Welch, an Internal Revenue Service agent—prosecutor Uzo Asonye consulted Downing for a moment. Ellis had something to say on the chatter.
“I encourage it if it’s going to have the effect of shortening this proceeding,” he said.
One of the lawyers perked up: “Could we have a moment?”
“You could have a day,” Ellis replied.
As Asonye asked the judge if they could take their conversation outside, Ellis corrected himself. “Yes, you may, but I was only kidding about a day,” he said.
Ellis reserved harsher words for Asonye, as he and the Eastern District of Virginia prosecutor got into a row over whether Welch, an expert witness, had been permitted to attend the trial’s proceedings before he testified.
It began when Asonye direct examined Welch and indicated the IRS agent had been in the courtroom, leading up to his testimony. Welch often sits in the front of Ellis’ courtroom.
But that appeared to be news for Ellis, who stopped to tell Asonye that he barred witnesses from attending proceedings, “typically” only allowing case agents to sit in. The judge said that in this instance, he would let it slide.
But when Asonye referenced a transcript, which would indicate the judge had indeed allowed Welch to attend, Ellis snapped at the prosecutor: “Let me be clear, I don’t care what the transcript said … don’t do it again.”
“Fair enough, your honor,” Asonye said.
Talk of Infidelity Returns
The testimony of Rick Gates, the trial’s star witness, wrapped up Wednesday morning, but not without one revelation that, once again, sent reporters darting out of Ellis’ courtroom.
In a re-cross examination, Downing suggested Gates had engaged in four, instead of one, extramarital affair. “Do you recall telling the office of special counsel that you actually engaged in four extramarital affairs?” he asked Gates. That prompted an immediate objection from the U.S. on relevance grounds.
It goes to “to whether he lied yesterday,” Downing shot back.
As lawyers walked to the judge’s bench for a sidebar discussion, multiple reporters raced out of the room. Gates, seated just feet away from the lawyers’ conversation, stared ahead in silence.
Coming out of the bench conference, Downing appeared to back down, only referring back to Gates’ “secret life” and how long it lasted.
“I’ve made many mistakes over many years, and I regret them,” Gates replied.
“Rocket Docket” Proceeding on Pace
Just before cutting out of court Wednesday evening, Ellis asked prosecutors how many more witnesses they intend to call up.
Andres said there were approximately eight witnesses left, with none likely to last more than an hour. The U.S. was “certainly on pace” to wrap up its case by the end of Friday, he said.