Defense attorneys in the bribery trial involving the Arizona Corporation Commission spent nearly the entire day on Tuesday grilling Kelly Norton, an unindicted co-conspirator turned key prosecution witness. Norton frequently appeared combative in her responses.
Defense lawyers devoted part of their time trying to show contradictions between what Kelly Norton testified in court and what she said in earlier testimony or in statements to investigators in interviews leading up to the trial.
“I don’t recall,” she said in response to a defense question about an earlier statement she made. “Can you show me where I said that?”
The exchanges grew combative at times, as Kelly Norton insisted on seeing transcripts of her earlier accounts.
“Do you always have to look at your interview to have an answer?” Defense lawyer Ivan Matthew asked at one point, as Norton’s cross-examination by the defense appeared to become a kind of cat-and-mouse game.
“I think I should,” she responded, in a series of terse exchanges that led at least one juror to furl her eyebrows and appear puzzled by Kelly Norton’s responses.
In the case, four defendants have been charged with felony conspiracy, bribery, mail fraud and five counts of wire fraud. Specifically, prosecutors claim that George Johnson, the owner of Johnson Utilities, in looking for a rate increase and a tax break from the commission, retained Jim Norton, who, in turn, had his wife Kelly Norton establish a consulting firm.
The firm received $6,000 a month from Johnson over a nine-month period that began in August 2011, according to the prosecution. Kelly Norton then paid $3,500 a month to Sherry Pierce, the wife of former Commission Chairman Gary Pierce, who headed the commission Johnson sought favorable treatment from. The prosecution contends the payments were a bribe. But the defendants have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
In opening their case last week, prosecutors wasted little time in bringing their star witness, Kelly Norton, to the stand to provide a detailed account of the scheme in testimony against her alleged accomplices, including her ex-husband, Jim Norton.
In her testimony, Norton claims that she went along with the payments to Sherry Pierce at the insistence of her then husband, Jim Norton, who she said controlled her. But defense attorneys have sought to paint her as a women bent on revenge against her husband for their divorce around Christmas 2015.
As they sought to attack her credibility, defense attorneys on Tuesday showed the jury several email exchanges that Norton had failed to turn over to prosecutors. The emails not only showed Kelly Norton’s involvement in the business. But the emails also indicated that Sherry Pierce was an active employee of her consulting firm. That contention is a key part of the defense’s case, given the prosecution’s claim that Sherry Pierce effectively had a no-show job as part of the pay-to-play scheme prosecutors allege took place.
In one such email, Kelly Norton appeared to give Sherry Pierce a to-do list, saying, “I need your help” getting lists of donors. Yet another email contained a list of Democratic clubs that Pierce compiled and sent to Kelly Norton.
When Norton tried to play down her roll in giving assignments to Pierce, Ashley Adams, the lawyer for Sherry Pierce, said sternly, “You were still asking her to do something.”
Defense lawyer Woody Thompson pressed Norton on her failure to turn over certain emails to prosecutors. Norton had testified that she’d scoured her computer for relevant emails by searching key names such as “Sherry.”
Thompson showed three emails with tasks listed for Sherry Pierce that were not turned over to prosecutors. After showing her one of the emails, Thompson asked, “The name Sherry is in that document. Correct? If you had searched for the word, Sherry, this probably would have come up.”
Norton responded, “I could have missed something.”
She also conceded, “Yes,” when Thompson pressed that all three emails that had not been turned over “documented work that was performed” by Sherry Pierce.
In another remarkable exchange, the defense hammered at what they contend is the bottom line – Norton’s revenge against her ex-husband, Jim Norton, over issues pertaining to their divorce just before Christmas in December 2015.
Norton was shown a string of her own Facebook posts. Thompson specifically inquired about a post that said: “Karma. No need for revenge. Just sit back and wait. Those who hurt you will eventually screw up themselves. And if you’re lucky, god will let you watch.”
Seizing on the post, Thompson pressed Kelly Norton to explain herself. “Who’s watching who?” he asked.
Kelly Norton said that she regarded karma as an “equalizer” that “comes back to you as much as anybody else.”
The exchange reached its peak when Thompson asked her, “Are you sure this post isn’t about your ex-husband?”
Prosecutor Fred Battista quickly objected. And U. S. District Court Room of Judge John Tuchi sustained the objection.
In yet another strike at Norton’s credibility, Defense lawyer Ivan Matthew questioned why Norton did not want to allow the possibility of a polygraph test to remain in her agreement with the FBI. She said she’d had the language removed from the agreement.
After she answered that polygraphs are not reliable, Matthew produced a signed agreement between Norton and the FBI in which the language consenting to a polygraph was still in the document. He produced a separate document without the polygraph language, but it had no signatures.
“And now, you’re saying you have a copy of the document with your signature?” he asked.
She said she has the signed document at home.
Prosecutors told the court that they plan to rest their case on Wednesday after two more brief witnesses. The defense is then expected to present their case, likely heavy with testimony to unravel testimonies by Norton and Thomas Broderick, a paid government witness who testified last week.