MANHATTAN SUPREME COURT — A Manhattan judge ruled Monday that the questioning of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his aides at the upcoming trial of a former campaign worker accused of stealing funds the mayor donated would be limited in scope.
Defense lawyers will not be be allowed to ask whether the mayor had any influence over the use of a $1.2 million campaign donation he made to his own Independence Party during the 2009 election.
But the presiding judge, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Ronald Zweibel, said he would be open to reconsidering whether to allow certain lines of questioning that a lawyer for the campaign worker, John Haggerty, may want to ask. These include questions about the mayor's credibility and whether he designated the contribution to be used for poll watching.
The judge's ruling leaves the door open to potentially controversial questioning of the mayor, who self-financed his own $109 million third-term campaign, regarding campaign finance practices when the trial begins next week.
To allow such questioning about Bloomberg's intentions for the contribution would "allow the defense to focus on an issue which is not a key issue in the trial" and "switches the focus from what [Haggerty] did to what Mayor Bloomberg did," Assistant District Attorney Eric Seidel said at a pre-trial hearing on Monday.
"It's a great tactic, but it's not what the trial's about," he added.
But Haggerty's lawyer, Raymond Castello, said questions about the mayor's campaign finance practices — including whether the mayor's campaign used subcontractors to conceal payments to election vendors — may be crucial to his client's defense.
Castello has suggested the mayor's team skirted laws by contributing to the party and then designating a purpose for the funds, which would raise questions about the legality of the contributions.
"We may very well argue mistake of law and mistake of fact, and certainly our defense is that Mr. Bloomberg knew darn well when he gave a political contribution he could not control its use," Castello argued.
Jury selection is expected to begin in Haggerty's trial early next week. He is charged with grand larceny, falsifying business records and money laundering.