The federal judge presiding over Hunter Biden’s criminal case has forbidden all contact with the court clerk’s office amid impersonation accusations and the unauthorized release of personal information.
Earlier this week, U.S. District Judge Maryellen Noreika threatened to sanction the first son’s legal team over allegations that one of his attorneys had misrepresented herself to the court clerk’s office.
In issuing her July 28 order, Judge Noreika noted that another attorney had unwittingly disclosed the personal contact information of a clerk’s office staff member on the public docket.
“The Clerk’s Office for this Court is staffed by many hardworking and dedicated employees,” she wrote. “They are often the public face of this Court and must address many different, and often difficult, issues on any given day. Their jobs are not always easy, but they do these jobs well. They have earned my trust and my respect. I will not tolerate or countenance them being ill-used, disrespected, or lied to.”
In light of those missteps, the judge ordered that, going forward, all inquiries be brought to her attention instead of the clerk’s office.
“Any such issues and inquiries shall be submitted in writing and placed on the docket,” she said. “To the extent that the rare instance arises in which a writing is not practicable, a phone call may be made to my Chambers by an attorney who represents one of the parties in these cases or an interested third party.”
In the lead-up to Mr. Biden’s first court appearance, a member of his legal team was accused of impersonating counsel for House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jason Smith (R-Mo.), who filed an amicus brief in the case.
According to Theodore Kittila, the congressman’s attorney, the court clerk’s office received a call from Jessica Bengels of New York-based Latham and Watkins, who requested that information submitted by Mr. Kittila be removed from the court docket. During that call, Ms. Bengels reportedly claimed to work for Mr. Kittila’s firm.
After learning of the call from the clerk’s office, Mr. Kittila notified Judge Noreika in a July 25 letter. The judge, in turn, demanded an explanation for the trick.
“The Court has discussed the matter with the relevant individuals in the Clerk’s Office and has been informed that the caller, Ms. Jessica Bengels, represented that she worked with Mr. Kittila and requested the amicus materials be taken down because they contained sensitive grand jury, taxpayer, and social security information,” she wrote in an order.
“The caller misrepresented her identity and who she worked for in an attempt to improperly convince the clerk’s office to remove the amicus materials from the docket,” she added.
The materials in question included whistleblower testimony provided to the House Ways and Means Committee relating to the Justice Department’s investigation of Mr. Biden.
The first son’s attorneys, however, told the court that the incident was simply an “unfortunate and unintentional miscommunication.”
Plea Deal Collapse
At his first court appearance on July 26, Mr. Biden was forced to plead not guilty to two federal tax crimes after watching the plea deal he struck with prosecutors fall apart.
Under the terms of the agreement, the president’s son was to plead guilty to two misdemeanor charges related to his failure to pay the more than $100,000 in taxes he owed on income of more than $1.5 million in both 2017 and 2018. In turn, prosecutors planned to recommend probation.
An additional pretrial diversion agreement would have also wiped a felony firearm offense from Mr. Biden’s record. Judge Noreika, however, voiced concerns about the structure of that agreement, which would offer the first son immunity not only from firearm offense but also from other tax crimes.
“Have you ever seen a diversion agreement where the agreement not to prosecute is so broad that it encompasses crimes in a different case?” she asked assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise.
Mr. Wise replied that he had not.
Questioning why such promises were made in the diversion agreement—an agreement she could not rule on—the judge said: “It seems to me like you are saying ‘just rubber stamp the agreement, Your Honor.’ … This seems to me to be form over substance.”
Ultimately, the judge deferred action on the plea deal, declaring that she could not accept it as is.
Responding to the hearing later that day, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said: “Hunter Biden is a private citizen, and this was a personal matter for him. As we have said, the president, the first lady, they love their son, and they support him as he continues to rebuild his life. This case was handled independently, as all of you know, by the Justice Department under the leadership of a prosecutor appointed by the former president, President Trump.”
While President Joe Biden has remained tight-lipped on the case, he briefly addressed it in June, telling MSNBC that his son had “done nothing wrong.”
“I trust him,” he added. “I have faith in him.”