Hours after the defense rested in the two-week trial of two Boston City Hall aides charged with extortion, the presiding judge said he is not ruling out granting a motion by defense attorneys for a “judgment of acquittal,” – a ruling that would acquit the defendants regardless of a jury’s verdict.

U.S. District Judge Leo Sorokin said he would allow the case to go to the jury – but that he was withholding a ruling on the motion – meaning he reserves the ongoing right to rule either way.

The surprise announcement came after heated arguments from lawyers for the prosecution and defense over whether the charges brought by the Boston U.S. Attorney’s Office three years ago are supported by the prosecution’s own evidence.

Kenneth Brissette and Timothy Sullivan, both senior appointees of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, are charged with extortion and conspiracy to commit extortion. Prosecutors allege the men used their positions and power to illegally pressure the Boston Calling music festival into hiring union labor.

Lawyers for the defense have argued that the stagehands union was preparing to stage a nasty labor protest on City Hall Plaza and that the defendants were merely trying to do their jobs in brokering a resolution that appeased both parties.

They have further argued that the permits Boston Calling feared it wouldn’t get were being held up by legitimate police concerns over alcohol sales and had nothing to do with the defendants – who had no power to issue or deny those permits anyway.

The case, delayed by three years of legal wrangling, finally went to trial two weeks ago. Prosecutors have presented some dozen witnesses to prove that Brissette and Sullivan used Boston Calling’s executives’ fear of being denied crucial permits to coerce them into hiring members of Boston’s Local 11 stagehands union whose labor they didn’t want or need.

But during cross-examination, one witness after another – including Boston Calling CEO Brian Appel and partners Mike Snow and Jesse Dubay – have testified that while they felt pressured to hire union stagehands, the defendants did not threaten them or make explicit demands; and all three said they did not believe the defendants meant to harm them or their company.

Motions for judgment of acquittal after testimony has concluded are standard fare for federal criminal cases.

But lawyers for the defense argued those motions vehemently in a late afternoon hearing before U.S. District Judge Leo Sorokin.

“After four years of investigation, [evidence showed] no threats, no fear of harm, no intent to harm, no obtaining anything of value, no fear of the defendants on the part of the putative victims,” argued attorney Sarah Silva, representing Brissette. “None of them felt these men were trying to do anything other than stop a picket.”

“Public officials are supposed to meet with constituents,” Silva argued. “They are supposed to solve problems and an interpretation of federal criminal law that chills the zeal with which public officials do their jobs is unconstitutional.”

U.S. Prosecutors contested those arguments.

“If it’s the job of public officials to force a private company to hire nine people it doesn't want or need by using their fear of economic harm, then it’s illegal for them to do their job,” U.S. Attorney Kristina Barclay shot back.

Sorokin had listened without interruption to defense arguments, but interjected several times as the prosecution made its case against dismissal, questioning prosecutors’ characterization of evidence.

After an assertion by Barclay that Brissette had “More than asked” Boston Calling to hire union stagehands, Sorokin asked: “What’s the evidence of ‘More than asked?’

“It’s the ramp-up of repeated asks,” answered Barclay.

At another point, Sorokin interrupted Barclay as she was recounting evidence that Brissette had threatened the defendants by appearing at a meeting Boston Calling had scheduled with another City Hall official.

“It’s an implicit threat for Mr. Brissette just to be at the meeting?” Sorokin asked.

“It’s part of the implicit threat, yes,” Barclay answered.

Sorokin finally said he would allow the case to proceed to closing arguments – but that he is withholding a ruling on the motion for a judgment of acquittal.

“I think there are issues,” Sorokin said, “of intent and inducement.”

“I have no intention on ruling on it before tomorrow,” the judge concluded, less than twenty-four hours before closing arguments were scheduled to begin.

Sorokin previously granted a dismissal of the case after prosecutors acknowledged they could not meet the definition of extortion as obtaining personal property the judge intended to use to instruct the jury. But an appeals court sent the case back for trial.