Judge delays ruling on motion to remove US attorney in New Jersey racketeering case

The legal sparring continued Monday in the racketeering case of a former county Democratic power broker, as a judge weighed reviewing records from the law firm where U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman worked when he represented a client who could be a key government witness in the upcoming trial.

An attorney representing former Bergen County Democratic Organization Joseph Ferriero is seeking to have Fishman removed from the case; Michael Baldassare also wants to have testimony from Fishman's former client, former real estate executive James Dausch, excluded from the trial and is seeking to have part of the indictment thrown out.

After a three-hour hearing, U.S. District Judge Esther Salas deferred ruling on the various issues until more briefs are filed. She said she is considering conducting an in-chambers review of records from Fishman's former law firm, Friedman Kaplan Seiler & Adelman. Salas conducted most of Monday's hearing with the courtroom closed to the public and reporters, saying she was acting out of concern that secret grand jury testimony or details of federal investigations could be divulged.

She ordered the two sides to return to court on Feb. 19. Jury selection initially had been expected to begin this week.

"We are pleased that the judge is thoroughly examining these serious legal issues and believe that the court has chosen the absolutely correct path to address where the case is now," Baldassare said.

A U.S. attorney's office spokesman didn't immediately return a request for comment Monday. In a court filing responding to Baldassare's motion, the U.S. attorney's office called Baldassare's claims "groundless."

The five-count indictment alleges Ferriero took cash in exchange for using his political influence to help smooth the way for a Virginia-based developer to win a contract to build the ill-fated Xanadu complex, a retail and entertainment center at the Meadowlands in northern New Jersey that fell victim to the economic downturn. It was resuscitated as American Dream by developer Triple Five, which plans to open it sometime next year.

Ferriero also is accused of lobbying local municipal officials in Bergen County on behalf of a software company looking for municipal contracts, without disclosing that he would be getting a kickback on any contracts the company won. To accept the kickbacks, the government alleges, Ferriero used a consulting company for which he was the sole member and which he incorporated in the state of Nevada.