The congressman remains on the ballot for the 27th District election
NEW YORK — A February 2020 trial date was set Thursday for a U.S. congressman indicted on federal insider trading charges.
U.S. District Judge Vernon S. Broderick scheduled jury selection to begin Feb. 3, 2020, for U.S. Rep. Chris Collins after prosecutors relaxed their insistence that the trial must occur next year.
The 68-year-old Collins, a Republican, was not in court.
He remains on the ballot for re-election to the 27th District, a right-leaning area between Buffalo and Rochester that includes the western half of Ontario County (including Canandaigua, Victor and Farmington). Collins has pleaded not guilty.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Hartman had first pushed to have the trial set for next year even as defense lawyers said they needed more time to adequately prepare their case.
"Mr. Collins has been on notice the government was investigating him for some time," Hartman said, noting that Collins has appeared on television insisting he is innocent of the charges.
The judge said the fact that someone declares their innocence should not be a factor in any decision-making.
"I understand this is someone who has more of a bully pulpit than your average defendant," Broderick said.
Hartman said it was in the public interest to have a speedy trial.
"It's not in the interest of anyone to have a question mark hanging over these allegations," he said.
Hartman said prosecutors were worried that Collins will try to delay the 2020 trial date, saying it's an election year.
Defense attorney Jonathan New said lawyers for Collins plan to challenge whether some evidence should be permitted to be seen by jurors.
He also said some evidence produced by prosecutors might have been obtained in violation of constitutional privilege protections.
President Donald Trump has said the arrest of Collins and another congressman has jeopardized the GOP's chances in the midterm election next month.
Collins, a staunch Trump supporter, was arrested in August to charges that he illegally leaked confidential information about a company to his son and the father of his son's fiancée.
Nate McMurray, the Democratic and Working Families candidate for the 27th District seat, issued a statement in response to news of the trial's scheduling.
“Now it’s official, Chris Collins will be beholden to his defense attorneys for the next year and a half, not the voters, not the hard-working people of Western New York, but his lawyers. He won’t just be a part-time, he’ll be a no-time Congressman," McMurray stated. “This is shocking and truly embarrassing to the people of Western New York. I’m out talking to voters everyday and they tell me that they deserve better. They’re right.
“House Speaker Paul Ryan has stripped Collins of all of his committee assignments in Congress. He won’t help the people of this region. He can’t help the people of this region. He never did," McMurray continued. "There couldn’t be a clearer contrast in this race. He will not let go of his congressional seat until this trial is over, or until the voters take it from him. They will.”