Reporter's Notebook

The Judge In Manafort’s Virginia Case Likes To Tell Stories And Make Jokes

A view of a courthouse during a sentencing hearing for Marcel Lehel Lazar, a hacker known as Guccifer, at the Albert V. Bryan US federal courthouse September 1, 2016 in Alexandria, Virginia. Lazar, 44, was sentenced ... A view of a courthouse during a sentencing hearing for Marcel Lehel Lazar, a hacker known as Guccifer, at the Albert V. Bryan US federal courthouse September 1, 2016 in Alexandria, Virginia. Lazar, 44, was sentenced to 52 months in prison for unauthorized access to a protected computer and aggravated identity theft, according to a statement by the US Department of Justice. / AFP / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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May 4, 2018 4:51 pm

Judge T.S. Ellis has been basking in the limelight as he presides over the criminal case brought against Paul Manfort in Virginia.

In between his tough questions and pointed jabs, Ellis goes off on tangents, reminisces about the way things used to be, and jokes about his old age. Sitting in the courtroom in Alexandria, Virginia, it can sometimes feel as though Ellis is primarily there to entertain us with his quips and stories, until he returns to the matter at hand, prompting the journalists in the courtroom to resume furiously scribbling in our notebooks. Reporters look forward to his asides, as they offer extra entertainment during proceedings that can be dry and complicated at times.

“I reminisce a lot,” Ellis told the courtroom Friday morning as he began one of his tangents during the hearing on Manafort’s motion to dismiss the indictment brought against him by special counsel Robert Mueller.

After the attorney representing Manafort noted that he would not spend time detailing the contents of his motion to dismiss the indictment, Ellis offered his thoughts on his time in England in the 1960s. The judge noted that the barristers wore wigs and robes and would not use briefs, instead offering their arguments orally.

“I thought that was a charming but ineffective way to do things,” Ellis said.

Later in today’s hearing, he mentioned the methods used by the British once more, noting that in England, the government would have formed a commission to investigate Russian election interference. Ellis said that such a commission would not work well in the U.S., but that “it sure is less disruptive.”

Ellis also likes to point out that he’s been a judge for 30 years and joke about his age. While questioning the prosecutors Friday, Ellis commented on how long the hearing may last and how long the trial could ultimately take.

“I’m an old man,” he said, joking that the trial could last longer than he could. He then took the joke further, telling the lawyers, “This proceeding could outlive me.”

The judge even made one popular cultural reference that my editor had to explain to me once I emerged from the hearing. Ellis brought up the ESPN segment “C’Mon, Man!” in which commentators mock dumb plays or moments during NFL games.

He used the ESPN segment to tell the prosecutors that one of their arguments about the authority granted to the special counsel invited the reaction, “C’mon, man!”

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