WASHINGTON — A federal judge strongly admonished an attorney for former ambassador Joseph Wilson for her appearance yesterday on MSNBC's program "Hardball" where she predicted a jury can find I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby guilty of making false statements.
U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton writes in an opinion today, "the Court would not tolerate this case being tried in the media."
Melanie Sloan, who is representing Wilson and his wife Valerie Plame in a civil suit against Libby, was asked by Chris Matthews if she thought Libby could still found guilty of perjury and obstruction charges - in the upcoming CIA/Leak trial - even though he may not have been the first person to reveal Palme's name.
Sloan told Matthews, "I think a jury could easily still find him guilty without being the first to leak because that’s not what he’s been charged with. He’s not charge with leaking. He’s charged with making false statements." Video: Judge angry over 'Hardball' interview
Fair trial concern
Sloan's appearance on "Hardball" upset U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton - who was asked by Sloan Wednesday to quash a subpoena Wilson received from Libby's attorneys to appear as a defense witness in the Libby trial.
Judge Walton warned Sloan, the court "will not hesitate to take the necessary action to insure that the ability of the parties to obtain a fair trial is not impaired."
Earlier this year Walton warned both Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald and attorneys for Libby from making what he described as "extrajudicial statements" about the case.
The judge warned Sloan, "This admonition applies with equal force to any collateral matters that may impact the parties ability to obtain a fair trial, such as a movant like Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who has moved to quash the subpoena that has been served on him as a potential witness in this matter."
Walton added, "As counsel should well understand, making disparaging comments in a television interview about a criminal defendant in a highly publicized case on the eve of trial could cause potential members of the jury pool to engender negative attitudes about the defendant.
And even more disturbing is counsel's uninformed opinion that there is sufficient evidence to convict Mr. Libby of the charges on which he will be tried.
Such comments by a member of the Bar, and especially someone who was a former prosecutor, is not only shocking but borders on unethical conduct. Counsel should have known that the comments she made were improper, but if she did not, she does now. Counsel is therefore on notice that any similar comments will not be tolerated."
The Libby trial is scheduled to begin on January 16th with jury selection.
Civil suit pending
Wilson's civil suit against Libby, Vice President Cheney and deputy chief of staff Karl Rove accusing them and other White House officials of conspiring to destroy Plame's career at the CIA.
Sloan has asked Walton to quash Wilson's subpoena to testify, because she says, "We’re concerned that they might be trying to use this opportunity to get information that they couldn’t otherwise get for use in their civil case, in the defense of the civil case."
Joel Seidman is an NBC producer based in Washington, D.C.
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