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 devices."
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.
(Editing by Martha Graybow and Andre Grenon)