Ballarotto, Thompson have their own theater going
By SHERRINA V. NAVANI firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
TRENTON — As attorneys battled through Day Two of testimony of Hamilton Mayor John Bencivengo’s corruption trial on Wednesday, there seemed to be a side battle brewing between defense attorney Jerome Ballarotto and presiding Judge Anne Thompson.
“She doesn’t have to state it the way you want her to state it Mr. Ballarotto,” Her Honor raised her voice at the defense attorney who began to badger Marliese Ljuba during his cross examination. “She doesn’t have to agree with your rhetoric.”
Jury members and onlookers were treated to several sporadic heated debates between Ballarotto and Thompson during the proceedings, and although Thompson held the final decision on what was submitted into testimony, Ballarotto refused to back down, defending his client thoroughly and refusing to rush through his questioning.
A particularly heated exchange occurred when Ballarotto asked Ljuba to describe to the court her and her daughter’s relationship with the mayor. The defense handed a brochure of the 2008 Mayoral Ball and asked the witness to describe the pictures printed within.
The prosecution immediately objected to offering the book and the picture of Bencivengo’s hand holding two coins — one of which was Ljuba’s daughter’s lucky coin — into testimony, citing irrelevance to the case.
“Yes Mr. Ballarotto, what does this have to do with the case?,” asked Thompson.
“Your honor, I am trying to show the close relationship between Ms. Ljuba and John (Bencivengo),” replied Ballaratto.
He continued to show evidence of the close relationship, both on a personal level and on a political level, between the witness and the mayor by showing the court pictures of Ljuba at the mayor’s celebratory balls in 2008, 2009, 2010 and in 2011.
“How many more pictures do you have Mr. Ballaratto?” asked the judged who looked visibly annoyed at the length of time the defense attorney took to display each picture separately. “I only have three more, Your Honor,” he said.
“Ok well maybe you can give them all to her at one time,” Thompson directed Ballarotto in order to speed up the process.
Federal Bureau of Investigations Special Agent Steven J. Montgomery took the stand for the prosecution and proceeded to describe the day he and former Special Agent Bill Monks met with the mayor for the first time, at his home, to inform him that he had been the subject of a federal corruption investigation and that Ljuba had been taping their conversations.
“When we told him we have him on tape asking for the money, he sank in his chair and said ‘Oh it doesn’t look good does it,’” Montgomery testified. He continued to provide information of their conversation with the Mayor and alleged that Bencivengo confessed during their meeting, to taking money in exchange for his political influence over the school board.
During the cross examination, Ballarotto repeatedly asked Montgomery if he had recorded the alleged confession either on the tape recorder the agent had in his briefcase or if he had written down the confession on a piece of paper. “No, we don’t record initial approaches,” said Montgomery.
After several more questions by Ballarotto to the agent, demanding to know why the alleged confession was not recorded, Judge Thompson interjcted, “Mr. Ballarotto, you are not going to tell us, I don’t want you to be in the position of testimony,” she said.
“Judge I don’t testify, I do cross examinations,” rebutted Ballarotto.
“Mr. Ballarotto you are a tough customer,” Thompson said with a smirk.
“I take that as a compliment,” he smiled right back.
As the seven-hour trial day completed and the jurors were asked to go home, Her Honor pushed the defense attorney to provide the court with insights into what next witnesses and/or proceedings could be expected for the next few days.
“Judge we have several people who are ready to come in,” said Ballarotto.
“Ok, like who?,” she fired back.
“Your Honor I don’t think it is fair to ask me that, the prosecution never provided me with their witness list,” Ballarotto raised his voice one last time for the evening, but decided to back down when asked again by the judge who he planned on inviting as defense witnesses.
“Mayor Bencivengo may testify tomorrow, Donna Bencivengo, Diana Nelson and his daughter Stacy Bencivengo,” he answered.