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Pride may be a problem when Bloomberg testifies in court

Oct 2, 2011, 12:47 p.m.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce forum on how reforming the U.S.'s high skilled immigration system will help retain their global competitiveness and create jobs, in Washington September 28, 2011. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Joe Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Defense lawyers are hoping New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's famous self-confidence will be his downfall when he testifies on Monday against the political consultant accused of stealing more than $1 million from him, legal and political experts say.

John Haggerty is charged with promising to provide a high-priced poll-watching operation for the 2009 election but, instead, using most of money to buy a house. Haggerty convinced the billionaire mayor to give the state Independence Party the money to finance "ballot security" during his reelection campaign.

Doug Muzzio, a professor at the School of Public Affairs at Baruch College, said the defense team will try their best to use Bloomberg's own self-confidence against him when he takes the witness stand in state Supreme Court in Manhattan.

"He believes that he is right. He never looks back," Muzzio said. "They've got to hope that the mayor in his arrogance says something that damns him."

Others say Bloomberg, who ran for a third term as an independent, will play it safe, following the advice of his campaign consultants and lawyers to tread carefully while testifying in the somewhat convoluted case.

Jerry Goldfeder, a campaign finance and election attorney who worked for Bloomberg's opponent in 2009, Democrat Bill Thompson, said he expected the mayor's testimony to be straightforward.

Even if no sparks fly, the appearance of a big city mayor on the witness stand -- especially in a criminal case -- is certain to capture public attention.

That was the case when New York Mayor Ed Koch appeared as a witness in 1982 in a civil lawsuit over his dismissal of the city's chief medical examiner. It was true more recently when Rahm Emanuel, just a week into his tenure as mayor of Chicago, testified at the corruption trial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.

And the spotlight shined on Bloomberg himself when he sat through hours of deposition two years ago as part of a federal discrimination lawsuit against his company, Bloomberg LP.

Bloomberg already testified in the Haggerty case during grand jury proceedings, which are conducted in secret and without cross examination -- a far cry from sitting in the witness stand in open court with a hostile defense lawyer and dozens of reporters hanging on every word.

Haggerty's lawyers have made it clear they won't make it easy for the mayor.

They have said they plan to refocus the trial on whether funneling money through the state Independence Party, rather than paying Haggerty directly, was a violation of campaign finance law intended to distance the mayor from "ballot security," a practice some say discriminates against minority voters.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Ellen Wulfhorst)

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