The political corruption case against former Gov. John G. Rowland was reassigned Friday to U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton, who imposed a series of significant prison sentences on conspirators in a similar case last year.
Judge Ellen Bree Burns, who is 90, signed a one-sentence order giving up the case, offering no rationale other than the act was “in the interest of justice.” It was immediately reassigned at random to Arterton.
Arterton presided over the sentencing of defendants in the conspiracy to influence former House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan through a series of donations through straw purchasers to Donovan’s congressional campaign. She took a dim view of efforts to hide the source of campaign money.
As she imposed a 38-month prison sentence on Donovan’s campaign fundraiser, Arterton said the punishment was meant as “a stark warning” to other campaign professionals who would undermine the electorate’s confidence in politics and elections.
Rowland, 57, a former governor, congressman and conservative radio host, is accused of soliciting two congressional campaigns in 2010 and 2012 to secretly pay him as a political consultant.
His lawyer, Reid H. Weingarten, a noted criminal-defense lawyer based in Washington D.C., could not be reached for comment.
Weingarten told Burns at Rowland’s arraignment in April that he and his client were eager for trial. Burns, appointed to the federal bench by Jimmy Carter when Rowland was in college, smiled and told Weingarten that she, too, enjoyed trials.
She set it on her calendar for 10 a.m. June 10, but it has since been postponed until September. There was nothing on the docket Friday to indicate whether the reassignment would cause a delay in the trial.
Rowland accepted seven $5,000 checks from Brian Foley, a wealthy businessman who says he was buying Rowland’s help for the unsuccessful 2012 congressional campaign of his wife, Lisa Wilson-Foley.
Rowland’s campaign work was not reported as a campaign expense. The money was not reported as a campaign contribution. Foley and Wilson-Foley have pleaded guilty to conspiring with Rowland to hide the arrangement from the Federal Election Commission.
Weingarten told reporters after the arraignment that any criminal liability rests with Foley, Wilson-Foley and whomever filed her campaign finance reports, not Rowland. The former Republican governor did legitimate consulting work for Foley’s health-care company, he said.
Rowland is also accused of suggesting a similar arrangement in 2010 to Mark Greenberg, another candidate for Congress. Greenberg, who is the GOP nominee in the 5th Congressional District this year, declined the offer, prosecutors said.