Wilkerson attorney asks dismissal or venue change

Citing “inflammatory” media coverage of her arrest on corruption charges, “outrageous” behavior of federal prosecutors, and a potential under-representation of minorities on a jury, the attorney for former Sen. Dianne Wilkerson on Monday called for either a dismissal of charges or a change of venue for her impending trial.

In a motion and 10-page accompanying memorandum filed in the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts, Wilkerson attorney Max Stern castigated then-U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan’s office and reporters and charged them with branding Wilkerson (D-Roxbury) as guilty before a grand jury had indicted her Nov. 18, 2008 on bribery charges in connection with the use of her office.  Wilkerson was arrested three weeks before the indictment.

“Under these circumstances, the indictment must be dismissed,” Stern wrote. “In the alternative, because Ms. Wilkerson cannot possibly receive a fair trail in Massachusetts in the wake of such unprecedented prejudicial pretrial publicity, a change of venue must be granted.”

Stern, an attorney with Stern, Shapiro, Weissberg & Garin LLP, also filed a separate motion to sever Wilkerson’s case from Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner’s because “they are not alleged to have participated in the same series of acts or transactions which constitute an offense or offenses.”

Both Wilkerson and Turner, who has been charged with accepting a $1,000 bribe and making false statements to the FBI, have pleaded not guilty to the charges. Turner easily won re-election in yesterday’s general election.

Stern, who has won accolades for his criminal and civil trial work over a 35-year career, could not be reached for comment Monday evening. In an email, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office declined to comment “as it is an ongoing investigation.”

The trial is scheduled to start in early spring 2010.

In arguing for moving the trial, Stern said statistics show that African-Americans are under-represented in jury panels in the Eastern District of Massachusetts. “Given that a black defendant is already at a distinct disadvantage in this District when it comes to the make-up of her jury, heaping additional prejudicial factors on her nearly guarantees that she will not be able to get a fair trial,” he wrote.

Stern also slammed the FBI affidavit that the U.S. Attorney’s office immediately released after Wilkerson’s Oct. 28, 2008 “dramatic and unnecessary” arrest, which came a week before voters in the Suffolk Second District headed to the polls for a face-off between Wilkerson and Sonia Chang-Diaz, who won the seat. Wilkerson had mounted a sticker campaign after losing to Chang-Diaz in the Democratic primary.

The affidavit also unnecessarily included Wilkerson’s record of campaign finance violations, prior federal conviction for failing to file tax returns and a probation violation, he said.

Gintautas Dumcius, a contributing editor at the Reporter, wrote this article for State House News Service.