By Karen Zautyk
Paul Bergrin of Nutley, known in some quarters as the (allegedly) “baddest lawyer in the history of New Jersey,” was due back in court last week for another spin on his judicial carousel. But it didn’t last very long.
The 57-year-old defense attorney and former prosecutor, whose client list reputedly includes the famous and the infamous — including alleged gang members – faces a 33-count RICO indictment on charges that include murder, attempted murder, witness tampering, bribery, drug trafficking, money laundering and promoting prostitution.
In more general terms, it is alleged that his Newark law practice was a front for a racketeering operation.
Bergrin’s first trial, which was limited to two murder counts – involving the fatal shooting of an FBI informant – ended with a hung jury and a mistrial in 2011.
Jury selection in the new trial in U.S. District Court, Newark, was completed last week, and opening statements were scheduled for Monday. However, federal Judge Dennis M. Cavanaugh, after consulting with Bergrin’s doctor at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, ordered a delay until Jan. 22 to give the defendant time to recover from a chest cold.
Bergrin, who reportedly will be representing himself, has been incarcerated since his arrest in May 2009.
Bergrin’s initial retrial had been set for January 2012, but an appeals court removed the presiding judge, William J. Martini, after prosecutors raised questions about his impartiality. According to published reports, the decision by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals was based on the judge’s alleged misunderstanding of how RICO cases should be prosecuted. Last August, the case was assigned to Cavanaugh in a random selection process. The current trial is expected to last at least three months. If convicted, Bergrin faces a life sentence.
(Editor’s note: In the interest of journalistic integrity, it should be noted that this correspondent had been summoned as a potential juror for the January 2012 trial of Paul Bergrin, had sought a waiver and was not very happy when it was denied by Judge Martini. However, the trial was postponed and she did not have to report.)