The federal judge presiding over New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez’s trial for corruption has a history of ruthlessness with underhanded politicians.
U.S. District Judge William Walls usually deals stiff sentences to public officials convicted of corruption, and has even berated prosecutors he perceives as soft on ethics violations, Politico reports.
President Bill Clinton appointed Walls to the federal bench in 1994. In the intervening period, he has presided over the trials of a county official who stole federal housing money, as well as a small town mayor who accepted bribes from developers.
In the first instance, he upbraided prosecutors for requesting a sentence of three years probation. Walls suggested the prosecutors cared more about securing wins than serving justice.
“The society is being swindled, and your office seems to care about notching wins,” he told prosecutors, according to local press.
In the second instance, the judge handed down a 58 month prison sentence for Ocean Township Mayor Terrance Weldon, despite prosecutors’ pleas for leniency. Federal officials argued Weldon deserved a lighter sentence because of his extensive cooperation with investigators. They further argued a lengthy jail term would deter future defendants from assisting police.
“As far as I’m concerned, the commission of such crimes deserves severe punishment,” Walls said at Weldon’s sentencing. “It does us no good to pat him on the wrist.”
The jury selection phase of Menendez’s criminal trial is already underway in New Jersey. He faces 14 felony counts of various corruption charges.
The senator previously attempted to escape indictment by arguing his activities were protected by the Constitution’s speak and debate clause, which protects lawmakers from prosecution in connection with official legislative work.
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, and the Supreme Court declined to take the matter up in March.
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