Trials & Litigation

Ex-prosecutor guilty of law firm racketeering shouldn't have tried his own case, juror says

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A former state and federal prosecutor convicted this week of operating his law firm as a racketeering enterprise and participating in drug-dealing, prostitution and even a conspiracy to murder witnesses, might have done better to let a defense lawyer handle his trial, a juror says.

As he himself questioned witnesses at his federal trial in Newark, N.J., attorney Paul Bergrin couldn’t help but reveal more of his personality than would ordinarily have come to the jury’s attention, juror Tad Hershorn, an archivist for the Institute of Jazz Studies, told the Star-Ledger.

“The risk is that you show character,” he explained to the newspaper, adding: “As smart as he is and he thinks he is, you cannot totally disguise who you are.”

A defense lawyer handling the trial also would have helped prevent witnesses saying to Bergrin, essentially: ” ‘No, Paul, this is what you did to me; this is what you said to me,’ ” Hershorn noted.

Hershorn said the accumulated evidence of Bergrin’s criminal activity mounted during the eight-week trial, showing a pattern of criminal activity that supported his conviction.

However, Lawrence Lustberg, who served as Bergrin’s standby counsel during the trial, told the newspaper that Hershorn’s comments just go to show why counts in the case should have been severed and tried separately—as they were during an initial trial, in which the jury deadlocked. Bergrin also represented himself in that trial.

The severance issue is expected to be raised on appeal.

“When I hear a juror talking about the accumulation of evidence, it makes me extremely concerned that the jurors did not follow the judge’s instructions that each count must be considered separately,” Lustberg told the newspaper. “That was the reason that we moved for a severance.”

A Star-Ledger editorial recaps some of the evidence those at the newspaper found persuasive.

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