Break out the Popcorn: Defendants Jerry Ruzicka, Larry Miller, W Jeffrey Taylor, and Larry Hagen will be allowed to make the character(!) of owner Bill Austin a matter for jurors to consider.
From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
The judge overseeing the Starkey Laboratories fraud case ruled Wednesday that defense attorneys can question company owner Bill Austin about his personal life and character, a tactical win for the four men accused of crimes.
The defendants in the $20 million fraud case have argued that they only performed financial transactions that Austin had requested. On trial are former Starkey President Jerry Ruzicka; Larry Miller, Starkey’s former human resources chief; and business associates W. Jeffrey Taylor and Lawrence T. Hagen. All four men have pleaded not guilty.
During witness questioning that began three weeks ago, attorneys for the defendants also repeatedly referred to alleged previous wrongdoing by Austin. They argued in court that evidence for some of his actions can be found in the wrongful termination case that Austin settled with his ex-wife for millions in the late 1990s.
The defense has accused Austin of a host of misdeeds including tax fraud, knowingly donating defective hearing aids to overseas charities and dispensing hearing aides in the United States without a license.
The accusations have made prosecutors bristle. They argued in a motion filed earlier this week that the judge should limit defense cross-examinations to topics directly relevant to this case and stop the defense from using witness questions as a chance to accuse Austin of criminal activity.
Prosecutors who are trying the case in the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis insist that Austin is a victim.
The defense “is trying to paint Mr. Austin as dishonest,” assistant U.S. prosecutor Lola Velazquez-Aguilu told the judge during arguments Tuesday.
John Conard, who is representing Ruzicka, said a full discussion of Austin’s “impeachable” character and past actions was necessary to mount an effective defense.
Read more in the Star Tribune