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Judge: Ex-state senator to face jury in Arkansas bribe suit

July 16, 2020 GMT

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A federal judge ruled that a former Arkansas state senator accused of bribery, wire fraud and conspiracy will stand trial before a jury, denying his request to be tried by a judge next year.

Former Arkansas state Sen. Gilbert Baker, 63, is accused of being the middleman in an effort to bribe former Faulkner County Circuit Judge Michael Maggio, who is now serving a 10-year sentence in prison for bribery.

Baker’s trial is slated to begin Feb. 22 and is expected to last for nearly two weeks, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Thursday.

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Chief U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr. determined in an order filed Wednesday that Baker’s case isn’t too complicated for a jury to understand.

The judge’s decision affirms federal prosecutors’ arguments in February after Baker requested a bench trial. Baker had argued that the case involves complex issues of state campaign finance and judicial election laws that should be decided by a judge.

But Marshall wrote that the court was “not persuaded” by Baker’s argument.

“First, it is the Court’s job to interpret the law, not the jury’s. If there’s some dispute about what the applicable law is, then the parties should air it in their pretrial motions,” Marshall continued. “This case is not so complex that a properly instructed jury would be unable to apply the applicable law to the facts.”

Baker, a former political fundraiser and a past chairman of the state Republican Party, is accused of conspiring to funnel contributions to Maggio’s campaign. The checks were addressed to political action committees that were primarily helping Maggio’s campaign for a seat on the state Court of Appeals, according to the newspaper.