Attorneys for disgraced former state Sen. Vince Fumo have requested a new trial, or failing that, that his prison sentence be affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals.
Court documents filed late last night assert that the district court failed to ensure an impartial jury for Fumo, who was convicted in March 2009 of 137 counts of corruption charges.
The court did not sufficiently insist upon the jurors that they should avoid the extensive media coverage of the trial, thus tainting their ability to be impartial, the documents allege. The filing also cites a widely reported instance in which a juror posted information about the status of deliberations on his Facebook page and on Twitter.
The defense also objected to prosecution testimony related to Fumo's supposed violation of the state Ethics Act, which in part forbids the use of public property for person or political purposes. The testimony was confusing, the documents allege, but the court allowed it to continue.
Fumo was sentenced in July 2009 by U.S. District Judge Ronald Buckwalter to 55 months in federal prison, which was panned by critics as a lenient term for the former power broker.
Federal prosecutors filed an appeal of that sentence in July, claiming that Buckwalter had gone too easy on the disgraced politician and low-balled the amount of the financial loss caused by his fraud.
The prosecution argued that Buckwalter's determination of fraud loss at $2,379,914 was less than half the real loss. Had Buckwalter caluclated even $2.5 million as the loss, he would have had to sentence Fumo to more prison time.
Responding to the government's appeal in yesterday's filing, the defense rejected those arguments, decrying "the government's focus on narrow procedural issues."
Oral arguments on the appeal likely will be heard in the spring before a three-judge panel.
In a brief filed separately yesterday, attorneys for Fumo's co-defendant and one-time aide, Ruth Arnao, who was was sent to prison last year, said that Buckwalter had imposed a proper sentence on her and that it should be affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals here.
Buckwalter sentenced Arnao to a year and a day in July 2009 and she was released from a halfway house on July 14. Federal prosecutors had argued in an appeal that Arnao's sentence was unreasonable - sentencing guidelines called for 70 to 87 months in prison - and that Buckwalter had erred when he calculated the fraud loss attributed to her at $800,000.
But defense attorneys Patrick J. Egan and Eric Reed argued in their response that prosecutors "did not establish clear error" in Buckwalter's loss calculation and that sentencing judges have considerable discretion when calculating losses for sentencing guidelines.