Rajat Gupta trial: NRI student in trouble
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Benula Bensam, 24, was sitting in the spectator's gallery in the courtroom when a United States Marshal approached her and asked her to leave the room with her. The US Marshals are responsible for the protection of court officers and effective operation of the judiciary. Bensam returned after a few minutes only to take her bag and leave the room again.
During a break in the court's proceedings yesterday, Bensam was asked to go upto Judge Jed Rakoff's bench for a private conference with him and the lawyers. Bensam said the judge politely asked her not to send any letters to him as any communication might be perceived as an attempt by her to influence him on the outcome of the case.
"The US Marshals accused me of trying to influence the judge in the case. I had written those letters to the judge without the intention of influencing him. It was really innocent. I do not even know if he read my letters," said Bensam.
A student at New York's Benjamin Cardozo Law School, the soft-spoken Bensam said she had taken a class on federal rules of evidence during her last semester and the letters basically focussed on the various evidentiary rulings Rakoff had made in the case. "I was able to follow the various evidentiary rulings well enough to have some appreciation for it and my letters were all about that," Bensam added. She said she keenly noted whenever the judge had discussions with the attorneys about whether to show certain testimony or documents to the jury as evidence.
In the letters, which she described as being "contemplative", Bensam referred to legalities like the co-conspirator exception to the hearsay rule, whether testimony can be admitted about what someone else believes confidential information is and if expectation of a benefit is sufficient to meet the benefit requirement in an insider trading. According to court transcripts, Rakoff mentioned the letters to attorneys in the case and repeatedly asked court officials to tell Bensam to refrain from sending them.
Bensam said once she was escorted out of the courtroom on Monday, the US Marshals questioned her for about 30 minutes and refused to give her cell phone saying she could get it back only after she answered all their questions. She later decided to go home and refused to answer any more questions. She returned to the court on Tuesday, even though there was no hearing on the case that day, to get her phone.
"I still had a hard time getting my phone back," she said adding that despite her objection the Marshals even took pictures of her from a mobile camera while she was being questioned. She said when she was called by the judge, she told him that her phone had been confiscated and her pictures taken by the marshals, to which Rakoff "expressed surprise and said he was not aware of it."
Bensam said she would not send any more letters to the judge but would continue to attend the trial "if only to show the US Marshals that their intimidation was wrong and unjustified."
She described the episode as a "good education" for her. She said she had an interest in the trial not because it involved Gupta but because Rakoff is reputed to be a "learned judge" and presides over cases involving financial markets, economy and business. "Those are the areas I am interested in and that is why I am attending the trial," she said.
Bensam's name also appears in a list of students whose academic accomplishments had placed them on the prestigious roster of the Dean's Honor Roll at New York University's Leonard Stern School of Business in the spring of 2007.
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