A judge will rule on the place of trial of Nebraska Rep. Fortenberry

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — U.S. Representative Jeff Fortenberry was waiting to hear Friday whether a judge would allow him to stand trial in the California district where he faces felony charges or in his home state of Nebraska.

U.S. District Court Judge Stanley Blumenfeld said he plans to rule on the case and other motions filed by federal prosecutors and Fortenberry’s attorneys on Friday. Another status conference hearing is scheduled for Thursday.

Fortenberry, a nine-term Republican, has pleaded not guilty to charges alleging he lied to federal authorities investigating an illegal 2016 campaign contribution by a foreign national at a fundraiser in Los Angeles.

His attorneys have filed motions asking Blumenfeld to exclude evidence from the trial and move the case from California to Nebraska, citing Nebraska’s lighter caseload, a California jury pool that would likely skew Democratic pandemic restrictions and California which have temporarily halted jury trials until February 22. .

Prosecutors oppose the motions, arguing that Fortenberry is “shopping around” seeking a trial in his home country. Fortenberry was scheduled to go to trial on February 15, but it will be postponed due to California’s suspension of jury trials.

On Friday, Blumenfeld expressed extreme skepticism when one of Fortenberry’s attorneys, John Littrell, suggested he should either rule favorably on motions that would undermine the prosecution’s case or agree to move the trial to Nebraska.

“If the court is going to rule in our favor and dismiss the case, then they should go ahead and do that,” Littrell said. “If he doesn’t, I think he can pass it on to a new judge.”

Blumenfeld said he was “rather surprised” to hear Littrell make that point and wondered if the lawyer was serious.

“It seems so blatantly selfish and unprincipled that it’s kind of surprising,” Blumenfeld said.

Littrell disputed this characterization, saying his argument was based on “the principle of the duty of loyalty to my client” and his obligation to defend it vigorously. Littrell argued that authorities targeted Fortenberry because of his conservative politics and deceived him, which prosecutors deny.

Blumenfeld also chastised Fortenberry’s attorneys and prosecutors for creating “a lot of noise” around the politically charged case, including allegations of political bias and the grounds for Fortenberry’s indictment. Blumenfeld said he was “not going to be swayed by the noise”.

“I have a job to do, and I try to do it in a way that is grounded in law and based on principle,” he said, advising lawyers “not to just defend a extreme position which you can probably guess will have a low probability of success.

Fortenberry said through his lawyers that he wanted to go to trial as soon as possible. He faces a serious primary challenge from Nebraska state GOP Senator Mike Flood, a former speaker of the Nebraska Legislative Assembly who was endorsed by Gov. Pete Ricketts and former Gov. Dave Heineman.

The primary will take place on May 10. The winners of the primary will face State Senator Patty Pansing Brooks, a Democrat, in the heavily Republican 1st Congressional District.

Fortenberry’s attorneys also said they want a memory expert to testify about the congressman’s state of mind when he told federal authorities he did not recall being tipped off about the illegal donation. .

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