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Thanks to Judge T.S. Ellis, Something Went a Little Bit Right for Paul Manafort’s Defense Until it Didn’t (UPDATED)


Paul Manafort unredacted warrants denied

Very little has gone the way of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort of late. It appeared that Manafort had hit rock bottom when it was revealed that he was being held in solitary confinement up to 23 hours a day, but the latest legal move by Manafort’s attorneys represents a small victory for his defense — or so we thought.

Earlier Tuesday, Eastern District of Virginia (EDVA) Judge T.S. Ellis III ordered Manafort to be transferred from Northern Neck Jail in Warsaw (Virginia, not Poland) to the Alexandria Detention Center. Evidently, Ellis found arguments about the travel burdens on Manafort’s counsel and the impact on case preparation persuasive.

Ellis said the order was to ensure that Manafort “has access to his counsel and can adequately prepare his defense.” Manafort’s attorneys had said that the 100-mile distance between them and their client was having a “severe impact” on their ability to prepare, unlike when Manafort was under house arrest in Alexandria, Va.:

The Northern Neck Regional Jail is located approximately 100 miles away from Mr. Manafort’s attorneys’ offices and it generally takes over two hours each way by car for counsel to visit with him. No electronic communication is permitted (e.g., to allow for the transmission of documents for Mr. Manafort to review), and telephonic communication is restricted to ten (10) minutes per call. This unforeseen development has severely impacted the ability of the defense to effectively prepare for the upcoming trial before this Court.

More specifically, Mr. Manafort’s current detention has made meetings with his attorneys to prepare his defense far more infrequent and enormously time-consuming compared to when he remained on house arrest and subject to GPS monitoring in Alexandria, Virginia, pursuant to this Court’s release order.

Even though Manafort’s lawyers complained about the long distance and the judge responded by, well, reducing that distance, it turns out they aren’t pleased with the decision because of “safety” reasons.

They responded Tuesday evening to Ellis’ order this way:

In light of Mr. Manafort’s continuing detention and after further reflection, issues of distance and inconvenience must yield to concerns about his safety and, more importantly, the challenges he will face in adjusting to a new place of confinement and the changing circumstances two weeks before trial. With these considerations in mind, Mr. Manafort respectfully asks the court to permit him to remain in his current place of detention.

Judge Ellis, you may recall, memorably challenged special counsel Robert Mueller‘s intentions in charging Manafort, but eventually agreed Mueller was not overstepping his bounds in pursuing charges against him.

Manafort has been in this jail predicament ever since D.C. Judge Amy Berman Jackson revoked the pre-trial release. He was hit with a superseding indictment in that case for alleged attempted witness tampering.

While it was not specified if Manafort will remain in solitary confinement once he is transferred to Alexandria, it is worth noting that his attorneys didn’t seem too upset about how staff dealt with their client. A July 6 filing contains a footnote praising the treatment of Manafort at Northern Neck Jail.

“To be clear, this factual recitation is not intended to be a comment upon the U.S. Marshals Service and the officers at the Warsaw facility. Their concern for the safety and well-being of Mr. Manafort as one of their detainees, and their treatment of him, has been nothing but professional,” it reads.

White collar defense attorney and Law&Crime trial analyst Caroline Polisi previously said solitary is “normal” when there are safety concerns.

“Yes it’s normal, when someone like him can’t be in ‘gen pop’ (general population) due to a separation order for safety,” she said. “Prisons are so understaffed that there is just no way they could otherwise guarantee his safety if he were allowed to access the public areas of the facility, given the high profile nature of his case.”

“He’s not getting anything special just because he’s Paul Manafort. This is the way they’d do it for anyone else if they felt his safety was in question,” she added.

Law&Crime’s Colin Kalmbacher noted that Manafort’s attorney asked for his EDVA trial to be moved to the heavily Republican area of Roanoke, Va. The reasoning here being that it would be near “impossible” for Manafort to receive a fair trial in Alexandria, given the close proximity to Washington, D.C. partisan warfare, “unrelenting news coverage,” and 2016 election voting data. That appears to be an unlikely outcome.

[Image via Mark Wilson/Getty Images]

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.