Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Once again, a federal grand jury is looking into the activities of an Allegheny County official. This time, federal authorities are asking questions about Judge Jeffrey Manning.
The grand jury called at least one attorney--Robert Stewart--as a witness to answer questions under oath about Judge Manning. Stewart's lawyer Tom Ceraso says he believes that federal authorities have been asking questions concerning the judge for about a year. Ceraso says it appears one focus is on whether or not the judge gives favorable treatment to lawyer friends.
You can see my Channel 4 Action News report on The Pittsburgh Channel, and the I'm including links to the stories from The Trib & the PG.
Here's a transcript of a portion of Ceraso's Q&A with reporters on the steps of the federal courthouse in downtown Pittsburgh.
Click the "read more" link to expand this post.
Q: "Explain what brings attorney Stewart here today, what your understanding is (of) what they're focusing on."
A: "That's a great question. You know, I have no idea, I have no insight as what the United States Attorney's office is looking for. I can tell you that with regard to my client--with regard to Bobby--the inquriy is, he did share Steeler tickets with Judge Manning and did what a lot of people in Pittsburgh do in regard to Steeler tickets. But over and above that, in terms of attempting to look at this, in terms of any illegality, I very frankly don't see any."
"Now, as I said before, the United States Attorney's Office may not like the way that business is conducted down the street. That doesn't make it a federal crime. And I'm very concerned that what they're doing is--they're looking at this from a very personal aspect, and not assessing what is occurring. Because, as I said, they're talking about a very, very good judge, they're talking about good attorneys, and I think they're putting them all in a very awkward position."
Q: "Is there any kind of quid pro quo?"
A; "There is no quid pro quo whatsoever. And if you get down and you take a look at Judge Manning's record, and if you take a look at what Judge Manning has done and what these attorneys have done, there simply is no quid pro quo in any of this."
Q: "What sort of items have they subpoenaed from Mr. Stewart?"
A: "Records, checkbooks, checks. Checks back and forth between he and the judge. Campaign material, that type of thing."
Q: "What is Pat Thomassey's involvement here? Because you represent him as well."
A: "Pat Thomassey has no involvement right now. He and the judge are friends. They've done things together. You know, for some reason, there seems to be the atmosphere that you cannot be friendly with a judge, being an attorney--and that is just wrong. That relationship has lasted for a long time. Pat is a very ethical and a very good attorney. He would not expect anything from the judge, and the judge wouldn't give him anything because of that friendship. It just isn't happening. It's an unfair assumption that because they know each other, there's something wrong with it. That's unfair."
Q: "Tell us a little bit about the trips that the two have taken."
A: "They took trips, with another judge, with other attorneys. They shared expenses. They did what people do that are friends. That doesn't make it wrong."
Q: "Is the thrust of their questions such that they are looking for some suggestion that in some way the judge's rulings are influenced by these personal relationships?"
A: "That apparently is what they're looking for. But if they take a look at how this judge has handled himself. I think that anybody that looks at the way Judge Manning has handled that courtroom knows that simply has not occurred. It hasn't occurred, and I don't believe that there's any evidence whatsoever that they're going to going to uncover that there's was ever any favoritism on the part of this judge with regard to any attorney. It just simply doesn't happen if you look at their records."
Q: "Based on their inquiries to Mr. Stewart, Mr. Thomassey, how long has this probe been going on?"
A: "It's been going on an awfully long time, with a lot of innuendo, and I see no end to it at this point. It's continuing to go on."