Prosecutors tried to delay a trial because of the eclipse

A judge cited Star Trek in his ruling.

By Devlin Barrett,

The wheels of justice may grind slowly, but they cannot be stopped by Monday’s total eclipse, a judge has ruled.

With the heat of a thousand suns and almost as many historical and cultural references, a federal judge in Florida has denied a bid by the Justice Department to postpone a trial this week so an agent could go see the eclipse.

In a three-page ruling that borrows heavily from Carly Simon’s 1970s classic “You’re So Vain,’’ Judge Steven Merryday of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida shot down a bid by a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent to postpone a trial because the agent had prepaid for an eclipse trip Monday.

The trial, involving a felon accused of illegally possessing firearms, will go on, the judge ruled.

The first page of the order, issued Friday, draws on Greek history and lines from Simon’s famous song, including: “Well I hear you went to Saratoga/And your horse, naturally, won/Then you flew your Learjet up to Nova Scotia/To see the total eclipse of the sun…’’

[How to watch today’s solar eclipse in Washington, Va., and Md.]

Paraphrasing a famous line from Star Trek, the judge then wrote, “on this occasion, an Assistant United States Attorney boldly moves (where no AUSA has moved before) to postpone a trial because an agent . . . has pre-paid the cost of visiting the zone of ‘totality’ of a solar eclipse that will occur on August 21.’’

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kaitlin O’Donnell had filed a motion seeking a delay in the case, saying that the agent, Chad Horst, had already paid for his out-of-state travel and, as the case agent, Horst “will be important to the United States’ ability to adequately prepare for trial. He also is a potential material trial witness.’’

In rejecting the prosecutor’s request, the judge also faulted the scientific claims behind the motion. While the prosecutor claimed a total solar eclipse last occurred in 1918, the judge notes in a footnote that, according to NASA, there have been six opportunities in the last decade to view a total eclipse.

[The great American eclipse is finally here]

In pointed terms, the judge said the agent’s desire for a stargazing trip did not outweigh the needs of justice.

“The present motion proposes to subordinate the time and resources of the court, of the opposing counsel, of the witnesses, and of the jurors to one person’s aspiration to view a ‘total’ solar eclipse for no more than two minutes and forty-two seconds,’’ Merryday concluded. “When an indispensable participant, knowing that a trial is imminent, pre-pays for some personal indulgence, that participant, in effect, lays in a bet. This time, unlike Carly Simon’s former suitor, whose ‘horse, naturally, won,’ this bettor’s horse has — naturally — lost. The motion is DENIED.’’

It’s not the first time Merryday has gotten an unusual request for a court delay. In 2012, a lawyer involved in a murder-for-hire trial asked for a delay so he could participate in an annual Ernest Hemingway look-alike contest.

That motion was also denied.

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