Thursday, October 27, 2011

Do they want the Cliff’s Notes version?

The jury of William Cellini’s “peers” (as though any group of a dozen people could truly be considered the peers of a man who tells politicians what to do) already has shown something interesting about their comprehension of the evidence they have heard for the past few weeks.
Do we need a Cellini edition?

It’s probably not that intense.

I WRITE THAT after learning that the first day of deliberations on Wednesday has become stalled on account of the questions the jury sent to the judge and attorneys.

They want to know if they can have access to the power-point presentation they saw during the trial’s testimony. That was a tool used by the attorneys to more visually summarize the actual evidence that jurors were presented with.

But it is not evidence, in and of itself. The actual evidence, including those recordings of government wiretaps that were heard during the trial, is all in the hands of the jury.

They have the raw materials in their hands. They can go through it as much as they want to try to come to an understanding of what really happened concerning Cellini – who faces criminal charges in U.S. District Court for allegedly crossing over the line between legal and illegal in getting an aspiring movie producer to make a sizable donation to Rod Blagojevich’s gubernatorial campaign fund.

BUT PERHAPS THAT is too confusing. Or maybe that takes too much time. So they want the summary, which was meant to highlight certain points that attorneys wanted to punctuate with force.

In short, it is the legal spin – not the fact, in and of itself.

The confused-looking people standing outside the Dirksen Federal Building with a cigarette may well be the Bill Cellini jury.

Which is why I was pleased to learn that U.S. District Judge James Zagel didn’t just give in and hand it over.

In fact, jurors wound up getting to go home early for the day on Wednesday because prosecutors and defense attorneys can’t agree on what they should be allowed to see.

SO EVEN WHEN jurors come back on Thursday to continue deliberations, there is going to be an initial time period in which they will do nothing. They will have to wait for the answer that will be crafted by attorneys – and whose legalese likely will be seen as pointless by at least a few of those jurors.

Who will probably rant and rage among themselves about why “those damned attorneys” can’t just give them a straight and simple answer.

When it comes to the courts, nothing is ever simple.

Actually, this moment reminded me of one that occurred just over a decade ago in U.S. District Court for central Illinois. It was the trial of Management Services of Illinois executives, who ultimately were found guilty of using their ties to government officials to benefit themselves financially beyond what could be construed as good government services.

THAT JURY ALSO asked at one point for special booklets that defense attorneys had prepared for them to use during the testimony to help explain some of the technical jargon used by state government officials in the Public Aid Department.

That judge refused to give the booklets on the grounds that they had the actual evidence, which means they had everything they needed to reach a decision.

Somehow, I think a similar answer in this case will frustrate the jurors, who may well feel like they’re swamped in government and campaign minutia

Which is never an encouraging situation to be in. One day into deliberations, and the jury already seems confused. Let’s only hope that they recover, or else this could become a long, drawn-out process.

PERHAPS ONE THAT lasts as long as the testimony itself – which in my mind breezed through so quickly (particularly when compared to the couple of months that the initial trial of Blagojevich himself lasted).

Got to keep those jurors content, particularly in a case with such significance to the way our state government operates (at least when they’re not engaged in political hissy fits against Gov. Pat Quinn by overriding his veto on the Commonwealth Edison “smart grid” bill).

That may well be the reason that Zagel was sympathetic to another “question” put forth by the jurors on Wednesday.

Apparently, there are some smokers among the jurors. Their question was to ask whether they could take a break for a cigarette. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that about five of the jurors were seen being escorted outside the Dirksen Federal Building so they could light up without violating laws against smoking indoors.


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