Lawyers defending Huawei Technologies Co. against U.S. charges that the Chinese tech giant violated sanctions on Iran gathered in a New York courtroom on Wednesday.
Why they and the Huawei prosecutors were there is a mystery.
As a hearing began, U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly sealed the courtroom and excluded the one observer — a reporter — from what she said was a “status conference” in a confidential proceeding.
“This is a grand jury matter,” Donnelly noted, when asked by the reporter why the courtroom was being closed.
Prosecutors and Huawei’s lawyers wouldn’t comment on their presence in court. But one legal expert speculated that Huawei’s lawyers want access to evidence from confidential grand jury proceedings that they believe may help clear their client, and the U.S. may be opposing the request.
“That hearing may have included discussions of grand jury matters but they must be kept confidential — thus the reason for the courtroom closure,” Peter Henning, a former U.S. prosecutor who’s now a law professor at Wayne State University in Detroit.
“This kind of dispute or hearing doesn’t happen that often, but in this case we know Huawei is fighting tooth and nail so they are taking every avenue they can to get information,” he added.
“Judges are usually leery of requiring the government to disclose grand jury material unless it’s exculpatory for the defendant. At this moment, we don’t know what the judge ordered, and you may not until much later at trial.”