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VOL. 35 | NO. 28 | Friday, July 15, 2011

Justice is blind but it can hear

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Thus far, I’ve avoided writing about the politician with the big hair and the name I can’t spell. But his recent 17-count corruption conviction causes me to relent. Charged with attempting to trade on the prestige of his office, he was found guilty by a jury who wish he was not their peer.

I am fated to go to my grave remembering his voice on the airwaves: “I’ve got this thing and it’s [F-bomb] golden,” he said, referring to a vacant U.S. Senate seat. The case against the defendant consisted largely of taped conversations. In which he repeatedly referred to the Senate seat as something he would not “give … for nothing.” A phrase frequently found in print is that he was trying to “auction it off.”

The jury heard the defendant seemingly seek a high-paying job if he appointed a certain person to the post, mega-campaign donations if he appointed another. And on and on, eight counts worth.

There were other counts against him – something about contributions in exchange for increasing state Medicaid reimbursement and passing legislation favorable to racetracks. But that Senate seat scenario was by far the marquee matter.

“I frankly am stunned,” he said, in the shortest sentence he’s ever been heard to utter.

The defendant spent seven days on the stand telling his story after choosing at his first trial not to testify. This, after going on a pretrial media campaign, including “The Daily Show,” to – well, what exactly was he doing? This, while pausing to sign autographs when entering and exiting the courthouse.

Did I hear someone say, “Trading on the prestige of his –”?

(That first trial, by the way, ended with a hung jury on all counts except one – lying to the feds.)

You gotta hand it to him, the guy can talk. But, now that the trial is over, the jurors also may talk.

Justice may be blind, but its hearing was not impaired. Moreover, what the jurors believed they did not like. And what the defendant said ...?

As put by the New Yorker’s David Mendell, “He teared up, smiled, joked, and offered plentiful denials. (One charmed juror told reporters, … ‘Gosh darn you, Rod. We tried to find you not guilty, but we can’t.’)”

“I honestly thought at times it was manipulative,” said one juror, referring to the defendant’s testimony.

The jurors said that, while conferring, they listened again and again to tapes of conversations between the defendants and his aides. Leading one juror to proclaim, “There was so much more evidence to go on.”

The thrust of the defense was summed up by counsel: “What you’re hearing is a thought process. He didn’t decide anything.”

Perhaps the most apt statement came from one of the jurors’ assessment of the defendant’s testimony: “Our verdict shows that we didn’t believe it.”

Or might the defendant himself have one-upped that juror when he said, “One of the lessons I have learned from this whole experience is try to speak a little bit less”?

Call the next case!

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.

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