Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Great Blago Fiasco

By Phasma Scriptor

The real surprise in the Great Blago Fiasco was that he was found guilty of even 1 count, not that the jury was well-hung on 23. It's typical in criminal trials of a rather scandalous or
infamous or celebrated nature for the venire facias (the jury pool) to be packed with citizens prone to favor the state. This feat isn’t exactly monumental because a very substantial number of people either work for the state or have some direct interest in rooting for the state; most people, despite any pretensions to the contrary, bow to the power of the state and believe in its legitimacy and, by implication, the presumption that prosecutors bring well-founded cases.

In federal courts (like the UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT for the NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS, EASTERN DIVISION (USDCNDIED), wherein Rod Blagojevich was on trial), judges are empowered to select the individuals who will sit in juries, based upon a procedure in which there’s another presumption, namely, that a judge “randomly selects individuals to be summoned to appear for jury duty” which supposedly will “help ensure that jurors represent a cross section of the community, without regard to race, gender, national origin, age or political affiliation.” Nothing prevents the selecting judge from examining the questionnaires submitted by each prospective juror to ensure that the venire facias for a particular trial has characteristics favorable to the prosecution.

When, for in
stance, the defendant and his/her attorney see that the prospective jurors being led into the courtroom for the voir dire (the process by which prospective jurors are questioned about their backgrounds and potential biases before being chosen to sit on a jury) are almost all white in a district where no such percentage of white individuals is extant, that's an extremely good indication that the defendant is in trouble. It’s well known that black females are generally more sympathetic to the defendant. So, failure to admit them into the pool is, on its face, proof of a pre-emptive fix against the defense. That was standard MO for the bad old South, which remains true, in some cases, for the bad new South. That also remains true in every jurisdiction for those special trials where findings of guilt are imperative for the peace and dignity of society.

Every prosecutor worth their spurs goes after a criminal defendant, empowered to “strike hard blows” yet are, in legal theory, restricted from striking “foul” blows; of course, hitting below the legal limit frequently occurs and, if on appeal, a skillful lawyer can demonstrate that his/her client was victimized at trial by prosecutorial misconduct, the convicted appellant can have the verdict reversed. But, if the misconduct is in the jury selection, no such foul play can be attributed to the prosecution and, there being a presumption of fair play by the judge, pointing fingers at the bias of the jurors is much harder to argue than most issues on appeal.

Thus, with a limited number of challenges, the defendant's attorney(s) would find it difficult to pick a jury that wasn't stacked against the defendant, even if a jury expert was employed specifically for the
voir dire and even if the venire facias provided an uneven playing field. Where the venire isn’t really random, winding up with an independent jury is virtually impossible. Meanwhile, a skilled prosecutor would be able to pick off most, if not all, of the scabs, the few independents in the venire.

How does this possibility of a stacked jury pool relate to the Great Blago
Fiasco? After all, his finder of fact, the jury, was able to only get a guilty verdict on one measly count? Ah, but this was the jurisdiction where clout was perfected. The jury was clouted to get Blago off; the circumstantial for that is the not-news that only one juror hung up a guilty verdict on the more serious charges, even though there was naive speculation by non-Chicagoans (or even Chicagoans who don't comprehend clout) that many, if not most, jurors were voting for acquittal on those charges. US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, by all accounts a very straight shooter, would not countenance tilting the pinball game in favor of the house, even though, as a veteran prosecutorial lifer, he’s well aware of the way the courts work now and, realistically, have always worked. No, fixing Blago’s jury would have been an inside job … inside City Hall, which, given the instantaneous leap-from-their-seats reaction of the US Attorneys’ side to retry Blago on the 23 counts sitting in mistrial mode, was already on the minds of Fitzgerald, et al.

The Daley family has, for the past going on 60 years, controlled the nomination of candidate
s for the federal bench in the USDCNDIED; they were all chosen on the basis of the abiding Machine hiring qualification of “We don’t want nobody nobody sent” in the typically mangled grammar/syntax/pronunciation of the South Side Irish Mafia. Hence, almost the entire federal bench in the USDCNDIED have been Daley loyalists; they were somebodies. If that sounds very mob-influenced, it is, the Mob having been joined at the hip (head, chest, legs, feet, toes) with the Machine, many key precinct operatives having been soldiers. After the various federal raids on the Chicago Mob and City Hall, the relationship is attenuated, but the overriding power and super-clout of the financial beneficiaries and backers of the old Machine, the Crown and Pritzker families and their special evil spawn, Sam Zell, remains undiminished, such that, when necessary, appropriate muscle and/or grease can be discretely applied.

Richie's boys would have let Rod swing unless he refused to roll over on Richie, the outcome on which the smart money placed their bets. Richie has been the next shoe to drip ever since former Gov. George Ryan took the pipe from Fitzgerald. Rod, as the son-in-law of ex-Alderman Richard Mell (though estranged, for public consumption, from clout-heavy Mell), well knew the routine - the Irish version of omerta, the mob's vow of silence to the grave. In the 11th Ward, the womb that spawned Daley, Jr., it's a given that, if you're drunk (for Richie, a 2-5ths of Scotch kinda guy, that would be anytime) and in a proper 11th Ward saloon, there's a loose-lips exception. The boys know that Rod knows where an awful lot of bones are buried and, so the smart money thought, Rod being basically a pansy would give it up to the suits. The verdict speaks loudly for the
venire having been salted with at least one decisive Machine vote, likely more.

So, what’s the upshot, speaking somewhat figuratively? Cook County is the site of the case upon which the “Jeopardy” episode (aired 11/1/95) of the long-running TV series Law & Order was based. “Jeopardy” featured a corrupt judge who lets a murderer go free with a proper painting of his eagerly outstretched palm. When the crime is discovered, Executive Asst. DA Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) obtains a ruling that another trial is in the offing for the wrongfully acquitted murderer because there’s no double jeopardy where the so-called “fountain of justice” has been poisoned; the trial is considered null and void.

The real-life Cook County si
situation, also not a trial for which jeopardy attached to Mob hit-man Harry Aleman, involved Cook County Circuit Court Judge Frank J. Wilson, very instructive as to the manner in which “justice” prevails in Chicago when a criminal defendant, even an accused murderer, with the proper clout goes to trial. Wilson was chosen to turn vicious Mob enforcer Aleman out on the street, which, for the incredibly low, low price of $10K, he did (complaining, ex post facto, that he should have gotten way more). And, like the corrupt judge in “Jeopardy”, when Wilson was being stalked by the FBI, evacuated his brain bone. Aleman’s original attorney, Thomas Maloney, who arranged for the fix, later went on, as a Cook County Circuit Court judge, to release three defendants charged with murder, including the infamous Anthony “the Ant” Spilotro, made more infamous in the movie “Casino” as “Nicky Santoro” played by Joe Pesci. Maloney also put an innocent man into stir for a murder he didn’t commit (released 23 years later).

Thus, if the smart money is really smart this time, Blago will be re-tried (actually, tried for the 1st time, there having been no jeopardy here either), a quiet investigation of the lone juror holding out for acquittal for Blago on all the nasty charges will be conducted and, eventually, Blago will be convicted on the second go-around. Or third.