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Baker bribery trial nearly upended after Assistant U.S. Attorney falls ill

by Dale Ellis | July 29, 2021 at 1:01 p.m.
court gavel

The bribery trial of former state senator Gilbert Baker was nearly upended Thursday for a second time related to a covid-19 scare after Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Harris was reported to have taken ill with fever and other symptoms after leaving court Wednesday.

Chief U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr. announced that Assistant U.S. Attorney John Ray White had stepped in to assist Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie Peters with the prosecution in Harris’ absence. Price also announced that court will be recessed today to give White time to get caught up on the case. Price also told jurors that arrangements were being made for covid tests for all courtroom participants in the event Harris were to test positive for the coronavirus.

Just before lunchtime Thursday, Marshall announced he had received an update from Harris regarding the results of a rapid covid-19 test.

I’ve got good news,” Marshall said. “Mr. Harris is just sick. We will stand down on the tests we were arranging and breathe a sigh of relief.”

“Does that mean he’s coming back?” joked Blake Hendrix, who along with Annie Depper makes up Baker’s defense team.

“That’s what Mr. White wants to know,” Marshall replied, laughing.

Baker is accused of bribing former Faulkner County Circuit Judge Mike Maggio to reduce a $5.2 million jury award against Greenbrier Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in 2013 in a lawsuit brought by the family of Martha Bull. Bull died two weeks after being admitted to a one-month rehabilitation stint at the center, which is owned by Michael Morton of Fort Smith. Maggio pleaded guilty to bribery in 2015 and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Following the completion of Maggio’s testimony Thursday morning, Chris Stewart, a Little Rock attorney active in Arkansas politics, testified to the creation of eight political action committees Baker hired him to create, saying those PACs were formed solely for the purpose of funneling money to Maggio’s campaign.

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