March 21 (Reuters) - Allen Stanford, the financier convicted
of running an estimated $7 billion Ponzi scheme, has asked for a
new trial, citing the media's use of Twitter in the courtroom
and a lack of time to prepare his defense.
Stanford, who turns 62 on Saturday, was convicted on March 6
by a Houston federal jury on 13 of 14 counts related to what
prosecutors said was the sale of bogus certificates of deposit
from his Antigua-based Stanford International Bank Ltd.
In a 71-page filing with the U.S. District Court in Houston
on Tuesday, Stanford's lawyer, Ali Fazel, said his client was
deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial.
Stanford cycled through more than a dozen lawyers since his
June 2009 arrest and was declared indigent by the court,
allowing his defense to be funded with public money.
Fazel said he lacked time to prepare given the "voluminous"
amounts of material. He and colleague Robert Scardino were
retained to represent Stanford in October 2010.
Fazel also said the case turned into a "media circus" that
left the Houston area "saturated with publicity prejudicial to
Stanford" even before the six-week trial began.
He said this was perpetuated when U.S. District Judge David
Hittner let reporters send Twitter messages from the courtroom,
even while the judge and lawyers were talking outside the jury's
presence, and failed to instruct jurors to stay off Twitter.
"This broadcasting is likely to have reached a juror, since
Twitter does not require active pursuit of information, but
rather, if a friend of the juror's was following the 'Stanford
trial,' the tweets might automatically show up on a juror's
Twitter account," Fazel wrote.
Stanford's request for a new trial does not indicate whether
such information actually reached jurors.
"It would be disruptive to the business of the court if such
messages were making it to the jury," said Christine Corcos, a
professor of media law at the Louisiana State University Law
Center in Baton Rouge. "That's why more and more federal judges
are saying reporters cannot bring in Blackberries or other
Stanford was convicted of fraud, conspiracy and obstruction
of a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigation.
He is scheduled to be sentenced on June 14 and could spend
the rest of his life in prison.
The jury also found that federal authorities should try to
seize $330 million of frozen funds that Stanford stashed in 29
foreign bank accounts.
The case is U.S. v. Stanford, U.S. District Court, Southern
District of Texas, No. 09-cr-00342.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel)
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