The trial of disgraced FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried is quickly approaching, with proceedings set to begin in early October. As his defense lawyers and the prosecutors quarrel over everything from which evidence can be considered to Bankman-Fried’s internet access, the latest battle line has emerged in a series of court filings from Monday night: expert witnesses for the defense.
Because of the complexity of the case, which includes a variety of allegations, from international corporate governance malfeasance to campaign finance donations, Bankman-Fried is seeking to have a series of eight specialists testify on his behalf. They range from an English barrister specializing in commercial law to a director at an electronic discovery consulting firm.
Although the former billionaire previously said he has only $100,000 in his bank account, the price tag for the expert witnesses—according to their own declarations—likely will be tens of thousands of dollars: The experts are charging anywhere from $400 to $1,200 an hour to work on the case, although they’ve stated they have no financial interest in the outcome.
In a separate lawsuit, the bankruptcy estate for FTX alleges that Bankman-Fried is using FTX customer funds—including a $10 million gift to his father—to pay for his criminal defense bills.
Department of Justice prosecutors are seeking to block the expert witnesses’ testimony. In a separate filing, the prosecutors said the court should “exercise its gatekeeping authority” to bar them from the trial, arguing that they would offer legal conclusions that “invade the purview of the Court and the jury” and “serve no other purpose than to provide an expert patina to inadmissible hearsay testimony.”
In the instance of the English barrister, for example, prosecutors argue that the interpretation of the expert—Lawrence Akka—is based on particular English case law, which would not be reliable for the jury. In the 45-page filing, they critique each of Bankman-Fried’s proposed witnesses.
With the trial just over a month away, the main area of contention is over the content of each side’s arguments. Both legal parties have filed motions in limine, or pre-trial arguments about which types of evidence should be permissible. The defense has long complained that prosecutors are slowly sharing the millions of pages of documents they plan to include. In a letter filed on Monday, Bankman-Fried’s lawyer, Christian Everdell, argued that the government informed the defense on Aug. 25 that it would be producing 3.7 million pages of discovery, in addition to 4 million pages received the previous day. The defense seeks to exclude any evidence from these productions.
The judge’s decision to revoke Bankman-Fried’s bail in mid-August complicates the matter. With the defendant now in the Metropolitan Detention Center in New York, rather than staying with his parents in Palo Alto, his lawyers argue that he’s not able to adequately prepare for the trial. In the letter filed on Monday, Everdell wrote that Bankman-Fried has no way to review discovery materials at the detention center and has yet to receive a hard drive of materials that his lawyers sent a week ago. They are pushing for a “temporary release” ahead of the trial that would allow Bankman-Fried to meet with his legal team five days a week.
A video conference to discuss the matters is set for Wednesday afternoon.
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