Manafort judge tells lawyers to nix facial expressions and eye-rolling

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Paul Manafort (right) and his lawyer, Kevin Downing, arrive at the federal courthouse for a motion hearing./Victoria Pickering (Flickr).

The judge overseeing the tax evasion and bank fraud trial of Paul Manafort is known for courtroom interruptions and stern lawyer warnings.

That reputation appeared well-deserved as U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III showed impatience with lawyers, expressing displeasure with eye-rolling, facial expressions and an emphasis on the lavish lifestyle of President Donald Trump’s former campaign chair, report the Washington Post, USA Today and Law.com.

On Tuesday, Ellis interrupted Assistant U.S. Attorney Uzo Asonye when the prosecutors emphasized Manafort’s purchases. “It isn’t a crime to be profligate in your spending,” Ellis said.

He also chastised defense lawyer Thomas Zehnle as he described Manafort’s contributions to politics. “I take it you plan to offer evidence?” he asked.

On Wednesday, Ellis told the lawyers to “rein in your facial expressions” and said he had heard reports of eye-rolling after bench conferences, according to Law.com and another Post story. Ellis said he would be “a little upset” if he were to see such a thing.

That same day, Ellis interrupted a Virginia contractor’s description of a landscaping job at the home of Manafort’s daughter that cost more than $100,000, and began asking his own questions. “This is hardly a good expenditure of time,” Ellis complained.

According to the Post, Ellis’ proclivity for interrupting testimony and asking questions has led to pretrial motions to block the behavior, mistrial demands and appeals.

The Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected claims that Ellis prejudiced the proceedings. “A tart remark or two might be what is needed to keep a lengthy trial on track,” the court said in one case.

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