- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Federal Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum is attracting as much interest in her style as a judge as in the Martha Stewart securities-fraud case over which she is presiding.

Yesterday, a federal appeals court overruled Judge Cedarbaum’s decision to exclude reporters from covering the jury-selection process.

In recent days, the U.S. District judge blocked some controversial evidence against Mrs. Stewart but has allowed other evidence that the defense says is hearsay.

Controversy surrounds the case both because of Mrs. Stewart’s high profile as a home-lifestyle expert and because of unusual legal theories being used.

“I’m not aware of any similar prosecution,” said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a nonprofit government and judicial-watchdog group.

The charges against Mrs. Stewart include accusations that she lied about her innocence in a public statement to prop up the price of her company’s stock.

“The judge is in a difficult situation in which the prosecution is testing a new theory for prosecuting securities laws,” Mr. Fitton said. “The court then has to walk a fine line. She’s got a hairy case.”

Judge Cedarbaum seemed to agree when she said this week the government’s accusation that Mrs. Stewart defrauded investors by declaring her innocence was “unquestionably a novel application of the securities laws.”

In another ruling that raised eyebrows, Judge Cedarbaum allowed friends of the prosecution’s star witness, Douglas Faneuil, to testify about what he told them after Mrs. Stewart sold her ImClone Systems stock, saving her from a $51,000 loss.

On Tuesday, the judge blocked prosecutors from using evidence of a voice-mail message from Mrs. Stewart’s stockbroker on Feb. 4, 2002, the day she first was interviewed by government investigators.

“The fact that he tried to contact her really isn’t evidence of anything, other than that they talked to each other sometimes,” Judge Cedarbaum said.

Last week, Judge Cedarbaum ruled prosecutors cannot call expert witnesses to testify on how Mrs. Stewart’s public statements influenced investors.

Prosecutors said the voice mail and expert witnesses would prove Mrs. Stewart lied.

In both instances, Judge Cedarbaum said the government’s evidence was irrelevant.

Lawyers who know Judge Cedarbaum say her half-century career as a respected lawyer and judge makes her a good choice to preside over Mrs. Stewart’s case.

“She’s been around a long while, she knows how to handle this kind of case,” said Lewis Smoley, chairman of the commercial and federal litigation section of the New York State Bar Association.

Doug Conroy, co-chairman of the New York State Bar Association’s securities-litigation section, said, “She’s regarded as a very careful, middle-of-the-road jurist who I think will conduct a very fair and even-handed trial. Her evidentiary rulings show she’s doing just that.”

In many ways, the 74-year-old judge’s background is similar to Mrs. Stewart’s.

Both grew up in blue-collar households where they had to compete fiercely in male-dominated fields.

Mrs. Stewart’s trial is taking place in the same courthouse where Judge Cedarbaum started her law career in 1953 as a judge’s clerk, immediately after graduating from Columbia University Law School.

Judge Cedarbaum attended Barnard College as an undergraduate, the same college Mrs. Stewart attended years later.

Judge Cedarbaum has worked as a government attorney in the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office, an associate counsel for the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a lawyer for a New York law firm.

The registered Democrat was nominated as a federal judge by President Reagan on Feb. 3, 1986, and confirmed by the Senate a month later.

Her rulings as a federal judge have included an order in 2001 that then-world heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman was barred from boxing professionally for 18 months unless he gave former champion Lennox Lewis a rematch.

In 1993, Judge Cedarbaum angered New York media by concealing the identities of jurors in the case of reputed Lucchese crime family operative Joseph “Bang Bang” Massaro.

Attorneys in Mrs. Stewart’s case either refused to comment or did not return phone calls.

However, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan commented yesterday on Judge Cedarbaum’s decision to ban the news media from jury selection.

“We do not see anything in the district court’s findings, other than perhaps the degree of media coverage, that differentiates this case from any other high-profile prosecution,” the appeals court wrote.

Seventeen media organizations argued that intense press coverage should not have been a basis for closing jury selection.

Although the appeals court said Judge Cedarbaum erred, it will make no difference in Mrs. Stewart’s case, which began last month.

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