The judge’s warning

During former NYPD commish Bernard Kerik’s pre-trial conference today, federal Judge Stephen C. Robinson issued what for him has become the standard warning to lawyers about to go before a jury in his courtroom.

Robinson noted in federal prosecutors’ and defense lawyers’ filings leading up to the trial skedded to start Oct. 13 “there tends to be an edge in some of the writing.”

“This is going to be a hotly contested trial, I’m sure,” he said.

That led Robinson to tell defense lawyer Barry Berke and prosecutors Michael Bosworth and Elliott Jacobson to keep things calm and cordial in front of the jury – or else.

The judge gave them his three-step curative for unruly behavior by lawyers. First, he said, he warns them out of ear shot of the jury. Second, he warns them  “with a rising level of anger.” Then there’s the final step, what amounts to the judicial equivalent of a public flogging.

“I’m going to call you out in front of the jury,” he said.

Robinson’s not fooling around about this stuff. It all stems from the first trial the judge oversaw after becoming a federal judge in late 2003. In December that year, while Robinson was still getting used to the fit of the new black robe, he was assigned the criminal trial of  lawyer Donald Roth and private investigator David St. John, accused of witness tampering. The trial was a raucous two-month affair with Robinson engaging in what seemed like almost daily battles with defense lawyers Bill  Aronwald and Larry Hochheiser, two veteran bulldog attorneys who used to be prosecutors. Ever since that case – Roth and St. John were convicted – Robinson has laid down the law to attorneys appearing for trial before him. He makes it clear that he’s the boss and that the jury will be on his side in any conflict with the attorneys.

“My juries like me,” he said today.

Another not guilty plea for Kerik

Already facing two federal criminal trials in White Plains, former NYPD Commish Bernie Kerik took the first steps toward a third trial by pleading not guilty today in Washington, D.C., to charges he lied to White House officials who were vetting him for the position of Secretary of Homeland Security. Pres. George Bush nominated him for the post in December 2004.

Kerik was indicted here in November 2007 on public corruption and tax fraud charges as well as the White House charges. But Judge Stephen C. Robinson has since ruled that the tax charges must be tried separately from the public corruption charges. And Kerik refused to waive jurisdiction on the D.C. charges. So one became three.

The federal investigation into Kerik came to light in September 2006 when former Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro announced that she was under federal investigation for allegedly trying to get Kerik to plant a listening bug on the boat of her husband, Albert Pirro Jr. Pirro suspected her husband was cheating on her.

No charges were ever filed regarding those allegations. Pirro was running for Attorney General at the time and said the leaking of the investigation  —  her announcement came shortly before WNBC News was to go on the air with a story about the probe —  was politically motivated.

Kerik’s first trial in White Plains is slated for October. His D.C. case has been put on hold until his White Plains trials are done. His next scheduled court appearance in Washington is Jan. 22.