JEA, the city-owned utility in Jacksonville, is in the news again as two former executives, Aaron Zahn and Ryan Wannemacher, face criminal charges of corruption and wire fraud. The executives are accused of conspiring to extract millions of dollars from the company by creating and then purchasing “performance units” whose value would increase when JEA was sold. The scandal broke before the sale could happen.
The defendants’ attorneys are now requesting that significant portions of the upcoming Kastigar hearing, which is meant to determine whether the government derived any testimony from their compelled statements, be closed to the public and the media. The defense believes that extensive media coverage of their compelled statements has “tainted” the prosecution, government witnesses, and grand jurors. The prosecution team denies relying on those statements in building their case, and the defense is asking to keep that information from prosecutors during the Kastigar hearing.
Kastigar hearings are rare and come from the 1972 U.S. Supreme Court case Kastigar v. United States, which established the rules for determining when the government has improperly used a defendant’s compelled testimony against them. The purpose of the Kastigar hearing is to ensure that the government has not used any compelled statements to build its case, as doing so would violate the defendant’s Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination. If the government is found to have used such testimony, the court may exclude that evidence from the trial.
For clarity, compelled testimony refers to statements or evidence that a person is required by law to provide or produce. This can include testimony provided under oath, as well as other forms of evidence such as documents or recordings. In the context of criminal cases, compelled testimony is often obtained through the use of subpoenas or other legal orders that require a witness or a defendant to provide testimony or evidence.
The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects individuals from being compelled to incriminate themselves in a criminal case, which means that a person cannot be forced to provide testimony that would be self-incriminating. However, there are certain circumstances where a person can be compelled to provide testimony, such as when they are granted immunity from prosecution for their testimony. If a person provides compelled testimony, there are rules that govern whether that testimony can be used against them in court.
This rare procedure is an interesting twist in the JEA scandal, and taxpayers are curious to know the truth about what happened. JEA is the city’s biggest asset and must be protected against overzealous bureaucrats and politicians. The trial will be closely watched to see how the ruling goes.