Judge denies Nebraska Rep. Fortenberry’s push to move trial
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A judge has rejected U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry’s attempt to move his trial from the California district where he faces federal charges to his home state of Nebraska.
The ruling, posted online Monday, was a setback for Fortenberry, a nine-term Republican who is accused of lying to federal authorities who were investigating an illegal campaign contribution from a foreign national.
Defense attorneys had asked a judge to transfer his trial out of California, where Fortenberry received the contribution during a 2016 fundraiser in Los Angeles. Prosecutors opposed the request, arguing that Fortenberry’s lawyers were “venue shopping” for a potentially friendlier and more Republican-leaning jury pool in Nebraska.
“Overall... the interests of justice do not weigh in favor of transferring this case,” U.S. District Court Judge Stanley Blumenfeld wrote in his ruling. “It does not appear that the trial in this case will be substantially delayed in this district or proceed sooner in Nebraska.”
Prosecutors allege that Fortenberry was aware that the donation was illegal but denied knowing it when he was interviewed by FBI agents, and that he failed to properly disclose it campaign filings. Fortenberry has pleaed not guilty and accused prosecutors of targeting him because of his political leanings, an allegation prosecutors deny.
Blumenfeld said he weighed all the factors that judges must consider when reviewing such a request and concluded a transfer isn’t needed. He said the number of expected witnesses that have to travel will be the same whether the trial is held in California or Nebraska, and many of the key events in the case took place in Los Angeles.
Blumenfeld said travel costs for all of the parties would be greater if the trial was held in Nebraska, and concluded that Los Angeles is just as accessible for everyone as Omaha or Lincoln. He brushed aside defense arguments that having the trial in California would disrupt Fortenberry’s congressional work more than in Nebraska and said he wasn’t convinced that Fortenberry would be able to stand trial sooner in Nebraska, even though California’s federal court docket is more clogged.
Fortenberry has said through his lawyers that he wants to stand trial as quickly as possible. He faces a serious GOP primary challenge from Nebraska state Sen. Mike Flood, a former speaker of the Nebraska Legislature who has been endorsed by Gov. Pete Ricketts and former Gov. Dave Heineman.
The primary is May 10. The primary winners will face state Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, a Democrat, in the heavily Republican 1st Congressional District.
Fortenberry’s attorneys have also said they want a memory expert to testify about the congressman’s state of mind when he told federal authorities that he didn’t recall being warned about the illegal donation.
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