By Emily Flitter
NEW YORK, July 9 "Wall-to-wall" media coverage
is hindering SAC Capital executive Michael Steinberg's chances
at a fair trial as it mostly presumes his guilt on insider
trading charges, Steinberg's lawyer claimed in a memo filed on
To fix the problem, Steinberg's legal team asked for
permission to have potential jurors fill out a questionnaire to
identify any potential bias among them, according to the memo
filed in federal court in New York. At least one legal expert
said there was a only slim chance the request would be granted.
The memo said stories about the investigation into
Steinberg's trading in two technology stocks were likely fueled
by government leaks, and that potential jurors could be swayed
by what they have already read about the case in the press.
"The coverage has not only been ubiquitous, but its
qualitative content has also been inflammatory, thereby
heightening the risk that it could interfere with the ability of
potential jurors to assess impartially the government's case
against Mr. Steinberg and Mr. Steinberg's defense," the memo
Steinberg is the latest of nine people from Steven A.
Cohen's $15 billion hedge fund SAC Capital Advisors to be
charged or implicated by federal prosecutors in an insider
trading investigation that has lasted more than five years and
resulted in intense media coverage of Cohen and his associates.
He was arrested on March 29 and charged with trading shares
of the tech companies Dell and Nvidia in 2008
and 2009 based on inside information. His trial is set to begin
on Nov. 18.
In Tuesday's memo, Steinberg's lawyer Barry Berke cited a
litany of stories about the insider trading probe of SAC
Capital. "The press itself has characterized the coverage of Mr.
Cohen, SAC and those associated with SAC as 'a crescendo,'" he
wrote, citing stories in The New York Times, the Wall Street
Journal, Reuters, the Associated Press, Bloomberg News, Time,
Vanity Fair, the New York Business Journal, New York Magazine
and other publications.
"Since September of 2012, for example, Mr. Steinberg has
been mentioned in at least 203 original articles, appearing both
in print and online, and alleged insider trading at SAC Capital
has been mentioned in at least 931 original articles," Berke
His memo also listed the number of times the Steinberg case
and SAC Capital's insider trading woes were discussed on TV, and
the number of times the subjects were mentioned - more than four
thousand - on the social media site Twitter.
"Certainly the matters that get this kind of attention are
newsworthy and people want to read about them and want to be
informed," said Stephen Crimmins, a partner at K&L Gates in
Washington who is not associated with the Steinberg case.
Crimmins said the request for extra flexibility to question
jurors was one of several avenues defense lawyers have to try to
stamp out bias on a jury. In more extreme cases, he said, they
can ask that the trial be moved to a different part of the
country, where media attention has not been so heavy.
Evan Stewart, a partner at Zuckerman Spaeder in New York,
who also has no connection to the case said even the modest
request for a juror questionnaire might not be granted, in part
because some of the latest stories about the insider trading
probe of SAC have posited that Cohen might not be criminally
charged after all. In addition, Stewart said, lawyers for other
high-profile people tried recently in New York for insider
trading, including former McKinsey & Co. CEO Rajat Gupta, did
not raise press coverage as an issue, despite intense media
attention in those cases.
In Tuesday's memo, Berke argued the focus on emails admitted
into court records in the case against another portfolio manager
who worked at SAC is hurting Steinberg. The emails show former
SAC portfolio manager Jon Horvath discussing information about
Dell that was allegedly not public. Steinberg is included in the
email chain and warns another recipient to "please be discreet."
Horvath pleaded guilty last year to insider trading charges
and is cooperating with U.S. prosecutors. Legal experts say the
government will have to use testimony from Horvath in its case
Berke said information in the articles sourced to "a person
familiar with the investigation" seemed to come from the
government, either the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which
has been conducting the investigation, or U.S. prosecutors in
New York. He bemoaned the appearance of a Wall Street Journal
reporter with a camera at dawn at Steinberg's apartment to film
Peter Donald, a spokesman for the FBI, declined to comment,
as did Jennifer Queliz, a spokeswoman for Manhattan U.S.
Attorney Preet Bharara.
The case is U.S. v. Steinberg, U.S. District Court, Southern
District of New York: United States v. Steinberg, No. 12-cr-121,
and Securities and Exchange Commission v. Steinberg, No.