‘Bloody, But Unbowed’–Newton Endures Latest Chapter In Campaign Finance Case

As expected, a state judge on Wednesday vacated Ernie Newton’s January 2015 conviction on campaign finance charges after the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled unanimously two months ago that the trial judge gave improper instructions to the jury in a case stemming from Newton’s 2012 run for State Senate.

The Supreme Court remanded the case back to the lower court allowing for a new trial. State prosecutors continue to pursue the case and on Wednesday Newton, a member of the City Council representing the 139th District, once again pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Newton argues whatever issues the state had with his application for public financing should be handled civilly. Newton’s lawyer, public defender Joseph Stawicki, is trying to resolve the case without a trial. What shape that could take is unclear.

“My head is bloody, but unbowed,” Newton, citing a line from the poem Invictus, told OIB Thursday morning regarding the latest development in the case stretching back years.

Newton received a mixed verdict from a jury on charges of falsifying $500 in campaign donations that led to approval of roughly $80,000 in public campaign funds for his 2012 Democratic State Senate primary race won by Andres Ayala. Newton was accused of prevailing upon individuals to falsely fill out contribution cards to the campaign so the public grant could be met.

Under the state program campaigns must raise $15,000 in small donations to trigger a larger public grant. The same jury acquitted Newton of witness tampering and could not reach a verdict on other counts of campaign finance law violations.

Many court observers believed the state’s case against Newton was thin. Newton and his lawyer Darnell Crosland argued similar matters have been handled civilly.

Noting Newton received no personal financial benefit, Superior Court Judge Julia Dewey sentenced Newton to just six months in state prison for violating campaign finance laws. Dewey allowed Newton to remain free pending appeal.

The 2012 primary race was a comeback attempt for Newton who had been convicted on public corruption charges in 2005 as a sitting state senator. After several years in federal prison he returned to Bridgeport in an attempt to regain his old state senate seat. He lost a close primary to Ayala.

See Supreme Court decision here.

From the Supreme Court decision:

In the present case, the instruction that the trial court gave, which is set forth in part I of this opinion, only requires knowledge of the falsity of the payment and not knowledge that the defendant’s own conduct was unlawful–that is to say, with a bad purpose to disobey or disregard the law. The jury, therefore, was not properly instructed regarding the applicable mens rea for the crime of illegal practices in campaign financing, and we conclude that it is reasonably possible that the jury was misled. Moreover, because the incorrect instruction pertains to an element of the offense, and because there is no evidence in the record that the omitted element was uncontested, harmless error analysis does not apply.11 See, e.g., Epps v. Commissioner of Correction, 327 Conn. 482, 485 n.4, 175 A.3d 558 (2018) (reviewing court applies harmless error review for instruction improperly omitting element of offense only if court is satisfied “beyond a reasonable doubt that the omitted element was uncontested and supported by overwhelming evidence, such that the jury verdict would have been the same absent the error” [emphasis altered; internal quotation marks omitted]).

The judgment is reversed and the case is remanded for a new trial.

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12 comments

  1. Congratulations my brother, but you told me years ago that this was going to happen. This further illustrates the problems black’s face with the criminal justice system when they over charge, when the judge doesn’t follow judicial guidelines and the system throws a little time at you in hope that you take that little time rather than fight what you know is right, moral and just.

    Again, congratulations and good luck with this and future considerations.

  2. Don and Ron
    Thanks for your kind words this has been a long journey in my life and my family’s.I thank God for giving me the strength to endure. I know justice is not fair but God is. I always felt this should have been handled Civil case. i found this article dated Nov.28th 2018. Mr. Steve Obsitnik who i believe ran for GOV. The article reads Fundraiser For Steve Obsitnik find 8,000.00 dollars for making straw donations to campaign. His was handle Civil minds was handle criminally. He received 1.3 million dollars for his campaign i received 80,000 dollars. Thank God for the Supreme Court!

  3. Ernie
    First of all I agree that this may suck but what are the other options?
    Just because it has always been handled as a civil suit unless the law is clearly written that it can not be criminally prosecuted then that remains an option and I do not think there would be many legislators willing to rewrite this law out of fear of legislators giving a fellow politician a “get out of jail free” card.
    And what would you accept as a reasonable compromise? A civil penalty equal to the amount of state funds that the candidate misappropriated? In your case $80,000? Or do you double that and make it $160K? I am sure politicians would howl over that.

    1. Bob
      You missed the point I was trying to make a point the SEEC has never may a case of illegal straw donations Criminal offense I am the first, yet Steve Obsitnik his was made a Civil penalty. He received 1.3 million for his campaign I received 80,0000 yet the seec fined him for doing the same thing I’m being charged with.
      If you are black criminal charges White pay a fine.

      1. Ernie two wrongs don’t make it “White”. While God gave you the strength to endure, who guided you to make a, be it civil or criminal act of violating the public trust in the form of illegal straw donations to access public campaign financing? You are, “Right” God doesn’t administer justice like the legal system here. They’ll get a nice room though. PS What color was Jesus again? Word of advise, look both ways when crossing the street. https://www.dailymotion.com/video/xy5hk3

  4. And second of all, somebody stole or misappropriated $80,000. If you did not punish that act severely enough then people would be lining up to get their hands on that.
    A five hundred dollar fine makes the act worth the gamble to a number of politicians from Bridgeport alone never mind the entire state.

  5. Congratulations,Mr. Ernest Newton. Time to put the past behind us. However,you still have a challenge with dealing with the present and the future. Good luck to your forward-moving considerations.

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