Wednesday was just the second day of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort's trial, but lawyers on both sides have already come under fire from the judge. U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis scolded attorneys in the Manafort trial on Wednesday, asking them to "rein in their facial expressions" after being told that multiple lawyers on both sides have "rolled their eyes" while leaving the bench, according to The Washington Post.
Ellis said he hadn't seen this behavior himself, but had heard about it happening from others in the courtroom. According to Ellis, such facial expressions imply to those watching that the lawyers are wondering, "Why do we have to put up with this idiot judge?"
Ellis also added, per The Washington Post, that he "might be a little upset" had he seen such expressions himself, but given that he is 78 years old, he said that his eyes are not what they once were. Nonetheless, Ellis decided to address the attorneys directly on Wednesday morning.
"Don't do that," he told them. "It's inappropriate. Rein in your facial expressions."
Asking attorneys to avoid rolling their eyes was not the only way in which Ellis grilled them, however. According to the Associated Press, he urged prosecutors to limit the amount of evidence they cited, given that much of the extensive evidence available to them is not actually relevant to the charges of financial fraud that Manafort is currently facing.
As The Hill reported, Manafort is currently on trial in a Virginia federal court for 18 counts of bank and tax fraud. His trial is the first to result from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
On the first day of the trial, Ellis was already challenging attorneys on both sides in their approaches to the prosecution and defense. He asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Uzo Asonye to avoid making bold assertions after Asonye suggested that "a man in this courtroom believed the law did not apply to him," and pointed out to the courtroom that "it isn’t a crime to be profligate in your spending." And when defense attorney Thomas Zehnle started listing what he described as Manafort's contributions to American politics, Ellis asked him, according to The Washington Post, “I take it you plan to offer evidence?"
Before jurors had even entered the room for the trial's second day on Wednesday, Ellis urged attorneys on both sides to avoid using the term "oligarch" to describe Manafort's financiers in Ukraine. Ellis also told Mueller's team in particular to avoid portraying oligarchs as criminals, in case that biased the jury against Manafort for having associated with them.
According to USA Today, Ellis is known for being a taskmaster who enjoys sparring with attorneys in the courtroom. He has presided over the trials of numerous high-profile defendants, such as that of Louisiana Democratic Rep. William Jefferson back in 2009, and he is notorious for speaking his mind both in his courtroom remarks and in his written commentary. As a result, attorneys have come to expect his sharp statements, and even to respect them, per The Washington Post.