TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WMBB) — A federal magistrate scolded a local businessman Thursday for allegedly talking to witnesses in his ongoing criminal case.
However, federal prosecutors noted that James Finch, the owner of Phoenix Construction, had spoken to witnesses who were no longer relevant to his conspiracy and bribery case and did not ask for Finch to be incarcerated until his trial.
Prosecutors also clarified that federal officials had made a mistake in their initial filing stating that Finch had spoken to current City Manager Vickie Gainer in December. Instead, Finch allegedly spoke with then-city commissioner and current mayoral candidate Judy Tinder. Tinder was part of the witness pool set to testify in a hearing and was not supposed to have contact with Finch or other witnesses.
Speaking of alleged contact with a different witness, Prosector Andrew Grogan said that “it appeared Mr. Finch was trying to influence his testimony.”
“It is concerning behavior,” Grogan said.
Magistrate Judge Martin Fitzpatrick added that he had concerns about the situation as well. The standing order in the case that Finch could not have contact with witnesses, victims, or Lynn Haven officials, requires Finch to “essentially have a bubble,” around himself.
Finch’s attorney, Guy Lewis, wrote that two of the witnesses were witnesses for Finch in the case and another was no longer part of the case. During the hearing, he pointed out that Finch lived in a small community and that he frequently worked with some of the witnesses.
Fitzpatrick said he understood that Finch lived in a small community and was in charge of a business but that either his lawyer or someone else in the business should have contact with anyone connected to the case.
If Finch did not follow the rules before his trial he was running the risk of being held in jail, Fitzpatrick added.
“I don’t want to do that but I will do that if we can’t get good behavior,” Fitzpatrick said.
Minutes after that hearing ended the prosecution and the defense took part in a pre-trial hearing before Judge Mark Walker.
The judge and the attorneys discussed some of the rules and procedures for the March 13th trial and Walker’s preliminary orders.
Jury selection will begin with 45 jurors in the courtroom. A second courtroom will be set up for spectators during jury selection. When that process ends and the trial begins the courtroom itself will be open to the public.
Walker noted the ongoing publicity of the case in the Lynn Haven area but pointed out that since the jurors were coming from the Tallahassee region most of them would likely not be familiar with the case.
“Anybody on the panel that has read anything on this case, they’re going to be gone,” Walker said.
Grogan told Walker he expected the prosecution to be done presenting their case by Wednesday. The two sides did not discuss how long the defense will take with their side of the trial.
After the hearing, Finch once again brought up a quote from baseball great Yogi Berra.
“It ain’t over ’til it’s over,” he said.