Bryant opts for judge, not jury, in corruption case

Posted: November 14, 2011

TRENTON - A judge, not a jury, will decide the fate of former New Jersey State Sen. Wayne Bryant in a corruption trial that could add more prison time to the four-year sentence the once-powerful Camden County politician is serving.

U.S. District Judge Freda L. Wolfson granted Bryant's request for a so-called bench trial during a hearing Monday in which Bryant reconfirmed his desire to forgo a jury.

Bryant first made the request in a letter filed by his lawyer in September.

"Yes, your honor, I do," Bryant, 64, said in a clear voice when Wolfson asked whether he wanted her to decide the case without a jury.

Wolfson presided over the 2008 jury trial that ended with Bryant's conviction on charges that he steered millions of dollars in state aid to the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in exchange for a job at the school in which he did little or no work.

The new trial, expected to last from two to three weeks, is scheduled to begin Jan. 31.

In the pending case, Bryant is accused of accepting $192,000 in legal fees from a lawyer who represented a developer with projects proposed for the Cramer Hill section of Camden, for Petty's Island in Pennsauken, and for the Meadowlands.

Authorities charge that neither Bryant nor his law firm did any legal work for the developer and that the fees - paid monthly over three years beginning in 2004 - were in exchange for Bryant's support of legislation favorable to the development projects.

Prosecutors allege that Bryant helped steer legislation through the Senate that benefited the projects and voted against legislation that would thwart them.

Bryant was indicted along with Eric Wisler, the developer's lawyer, in September 2010. By that point, he already was serving a sentence for his first conviction.

Wisler, a prominent North Jersey lawyer, died of cancer in August. Charges against him have been dismissed.

Henry E. Klingeman, Bryant's court-appointed lawyer, said he believed that a nonjury trial in the pending case would be more efficient and that a judge, rather than a jury, would be able to assess the "nuances" that will be part of the defense.

He also said that the "publicity and notoriety" surrounding more than a dozen political corruption cases that have been tried in New Jersey in recent years "makes it difficult for political figures to get a fair trial" from a jury.

Prosecutors did not oppose Bryant's request.

Bryant, who celebrated his 64th birthday last week, sat quietly through most of the hearing. Dressed in a gray prison jumpsuit, his ankles shackled, the former South Jersey legislative leader appeared thinner and his hair grayer than during his first trial two years ago.

The one-time powerful chairman of the Senate's Budget and Appropriations Committee, Bryant, of Lawnside, was first elected to the Senate in 1995 and served for 13 years. He did not seek reelection after his first indictment in 2007.


Contact staff writer George Anastasia at 856-779-3846 or ganastasia@phillynews.com.

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