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Johnny Doc and Bobby Henon’s lawyers pushed to have their federal bribery charges thrown out before they reach a jury

“The government has no evidence — none — to prove [Henon’s] employment was given and accepted with the specific intent to influence the ‘official actions’ described at trial,” defense lawyers argued.

IBEW Local 98 leader John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty leaves the James A. Byrne United States Courthouse Oct. 26 at the conclusion of testimony in his federal corruption trial with City Councilmember Bobby Henon.
IBEW Local 98 leader John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty leaves the James A. Byrne United States Courthouse Oct. 26 at the conclusion of testimony in his federal corruption trial with City Councilmember Bobby Henon.Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

Lawyers for labor leader John Dougherty and City Councilmember Bobby Henon on Monday urged the judge overseeing their federal bribery trial to throw out the charges before the jury has a chance to deliberate, saying the government failed to prove anything criminal in more than four weeks of testimony and evidence.

Calling prosecutors’ case “misleading” and “disingenuous,” Dougherty attorney Terence Grugan maintained that the government had not definitively linked any action Henon had taken as a member of Council to the more than $70,000-a-year salary he received from Dougherty’s union, Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

“The government has no evidence — none — to prove Mr. Henon’s employment was given and accepted with the specific intent to influence the ‘official actions’ described at trial,” he said.

Prosecutors shot back, saying the dozens of wiretapped phone calls played for jurors proved that Henon used his Council office, almost exclusively, to serve one “incredibly important constituent.”

“Henon was simply on Dougherty’s payroll to do his constant bidding,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Costello said in court filings. “The case was charged and [has been] proven as such.”

» READ MORE: As it Happened: Lawyers for John Dougherty and Bobby Henon urge judge to dismiss case in bribery trial

Those arguments came as the city’s most closely watched public corruption trials in years reached its midway point. Last week, prosecutors told the court they were nearing the end of their case, and U.S. District Judge Jeffrey L. Schmehl dismissed the jury until Tuesday, when the defense is expected to begin presenting its witnesses.

While it is routine for defense lawyers to push judges to dismiss a case at this turning point of any criminal trial, it is exceedingly rare — though not unheard of — for judges to agree.

Schmehl did not rule from the bench and gave no indication which way he might be leaning. He also did not signal when he intended to make his decision.

Nevertheless, the arguments put forth Monday drew clear battle lines as the trial enters its home stretch and offered a preview of how both sides intend to cast the wiretapped recordings and testimony from dozens of witnesses over the past month in their closing arguments to the jury.

And the defense clearly believed they have a solid case.

“They took a conflict of interest case — which should have been brought [before] the city ethics board — and they took it to federal court,” said Henon’s attorney, Brian McMonagle. “It doesn’t pass muster.”

McMonagle argued that, at best, the government had proven that Henon, a longtime member of Dougherty’s union and its former political director, had taken action on several matters in which Local 98 had an active interest.

What they hadn’t proved, he maintained, was that the Councilmember did so because he remained on the union’s payroll after his election to Council.

Prosecutors, however, balked at that theory, saying the wiretap recordings they’d played for jurors showed instance after instance in which Henon had taken direction from Dougherty.

But when it came to debating the official actions prosecutors say Henon took to advance Dougherty’s agenda, the arguments seemed as if both sides had been sitting through entirely different trials.

In two incidents — Henon’s suggestion in 2015 that he could introduce legislation that would adversely impact the plumbers’ union so Dougherty could use it to his advantage, and a separate episode that same year in which the councilmember threatened to hold hearings on a towing company that had tried to take the labor leader’s car — Henon ultimately took no action at all, the defense noted.

Prosecutors countered that despite what Henon may or may not have done, he’d been caught on wiretaps agreeing to take the action Dougherty wanted. The agreement, they said, is what’s necessary to prove their case.

As for the government’s claim that Henon, at Dougherty’s urging, used his influence over the Department of Licenses & Inspections in 2015 to prompt city inspectors to shut down the installation of two MRI machines at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia by nonunion workers, prosecutors said the evidence was clear.

Henon’s official action was referring complaints from either Dougherty or his surrogates to L&I’s then-Commissioner Carlton Wiliams, Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Barrett said, and his influence as a councilmember prompted Williams to prioritize it.

The defense noted, however, that Williams testified earlier in the trial that Henon had never asked him to do anything improper or illegal or sought to influence any of L&I’s ultimate decisions on the CHOP inspections.

» READ MORE: Catching up on what's happened so far in the John Dougherty and Bobby Henon trial

Much of the trial has focused on a 2015 meeting Henon set up in his Council office between Dougherty and Comcast executives amid ongoing negotiations over the city’s franchise agreement with the cable giant.

The defense argued Monday that simply hosting that meeting doesn’t satisfy the definition of an “official action” by a public official under federal bribery law.

But Costello said that discussion was more than just a meeting — it was a shakedown in which Henon injected Dougherty directly into the city’s negotiations and made the ultimate passage of the franchise agreement contingent upon Comcast meeting Dougherty’s demands for more union work.

“What has been called a meeting … was basically Henon allowing Dougherty to speak through him and conduct the negotiations” on behalf of the city, Costello argued. “Everyone understood that if Dougherty’s demands were not met, the franchise bill was not going to pass.”

The defense scoffed at the government claim that Henon struck a deal in 2016 with then-Philadelphia Parking Authority head Joe Ashdale to squash a proposed audit of the agency in exchange for a bribe of free windows at his chief of staff’s home.

Though the audit and the windows were often discussed on the same phone calls, neither man explicitly linked the two topics in any of the conversations played in court, defense lawyers said.

Barrett, speaking for the government, pushed back.

“Public officials and those who are seeking to bribe them sometimes use winks and nods … to seal the deal,” he said. “People don’t in these instances often talk very plainly or explicitly about what they want.”

Testimony in the trial is expected to resume Tuesday.

Keep up with every development in John Dougherty and Bobby Henon’s case with our day-by-day recaps, live coverage, and explainer on everything you need to know about the case.