PHILADELPHIA (AP) – A federal appeals court has delayed any court action against U.S. Sen Bob Menendez of New Jersey while he appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia issued its ruling on Monday after a three-judge panel ruled not to dismiss corruption charges earlier this month.
Attorney Abbe Lowell asked for the stay and a delay in any federal court action so that he could file a petition for review by the highest court. Federal prosecutors had argued against it and instead requested a court hearing to set a trial date, arguing that the case "does not present a substantial question likely to result in Supreme Court review."
Lowell argued that the charges should be tossed because of a constitutional clause that protects the actions of sitting lawmakers. A three-judge panel had ruled that the dispute is something that needs to be decided at trial.
Menendez has pleaded not guilty to bribery and fraud charges.
In a court filing, Lowell wrote that "this case presents a substantial speech or debate clause question that has divided the courts of appeals and that is of fundamental importance to bedrock constitutional principles of separation of powers." He went on to state that the Democrat "would suffer irreparable harm" if he had to stand trial before the Supreme Court can consider the appeal.
Lowell had argued before the panel in February that the senator's meetings with government officials were held to discuss policy matters, not to benefit a wealthy friend. Prosecutors allege the friend, Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen, plied Menendez with gifts and campaign donations in exchange for political influence.
Melgen has also pleaded not guilty to bribery and fraud charges.