Trials & Litigation

White-collar defense lawyers draw ire of federal judge

Lawyers defending a former bank executive clashed with a federal judge Wednesday who complained their questioning was taking too long.

Lawyers Sol Wisenberg and Vincent “Trace” Schmeltz are defending Stephen Fields, one of several former executives accused in the collapse of the Bank of the Commonwealth, the Virginian-Pilot reports. The lawyers are partners with Barnes & Thornburg, according to its website.

In testimony at the federal trial in Norfolk on Wednesday, Fields denied making loans to straw buyers and approving inflated invoices on construction projects. At one point during questioning, U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson told Wisenberg he would have to “wrap this up today,” the Virginian-Pilot reports in a separate story. “You spent four hours on direct before you got to anything substantive in the indictment,” Jackson complained.

Jackson said court would stay in session until 6:30 p.m., spurring an objection from co-counsel Schmeltz later in the day when jurors were absent, the story says.

The story reports on the exchange that followed. Jackson started to warn Schmeltz not to “raise that objection again,” but Schmeltz tried anyway. Jackson ordered Schmeltz to sit down, and when Schmeltz said, “Your honor,” Jackson issued a threat.

“If you say another word, I’m going to hold you in contempt,” he said.

“Your honor, you’re prejudicing our case by making the jury stay late,” Schmeltz said.

“If I tell you again, I’m gonna have you locked up,” Jackson said.

As Schmeltz walked to his seat he said he would ask for a mistrial, spurring Jackson to tell him the motion wouldn’t succeed. Wisenberg told the judge he was going to ask for a 48-hour continuance to go to the federal appeals court. “No sir,” Jackson replied.

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