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The [Wednesday] Papers

Sometimes juries get it wrong.

Think about the dozen people sitting closest to you at work. Or at the bar. Or picked at random out of the phone book - which is pretty much how juries get picked.

It's amazing they ever get it right.

So the Blago pundits can blather - have we ever seen a more embarrassing display of know-nothingness disguised as expertise? - about all the reasons this jury returned the verdict (or non-verdict, mostly) that it did, but I find it hard to suddenly blame the government for the case it put on.

Sometimes juries get it wrong.

Why must it be off-limits to say so?

As I understand it, the conviction rate for the feds is even higher in retrials than the 90 percent it gets the first time around. There is a reason for that.

It's not that the feds are perfect or faultless; it's that the feds only bring certain kinds of cases with certain kinds of evidence educed by certain kinds of investigators at the direction of certain kinds of prosecutors. They mostly bring cases - at least in the realm of political corruption - in which they are certain.

This jury was uncertain from the start.

"I knew we were in trouble from the first day of deliberations," foreperson James Matsumoto told the Chicago News Cooperative.

A lone holdout juror frustrated the rest of the panel on about a quarter of the counts, Matsumoto said.

That's pretty significant considering that the 24 counts against Rod Blagojevich and four against Rob Blagojevich were based on just a half dozen acts.

And if the jury convicted on one - let's say the weakest of them - you'd think that, rationally, they'd convict across the board. After all, the prosecution demonstrated a pattern of behavior, a method of operation.

And on the weakest charge, the selling of a United States Senate seat, the jury was 11-1 for conviction.

This is why the law allows for retrials; it should never come down to one person who just doesn't - or won't - get it.

"[Juror Erik] Sarnello addressed the question of why the jury Tuesday asked for a copy of the oath they took at the start of deliberations," the news cooperative reports. "Some jurors felt one of the jurors was not deliberating in good faith. 'Some people felt that they were deliberating not under what the law told us to do,' he said.

"'What they were looking at wasn't what we were supposed to be looking at based on what the judge gave us as a set of rules,' Sarnello said."

Perhaps that juror liked what they saw of Rod and Patti on TV.

Matsumoto unfortunately gave some pundits some ammunition when he told WTTW-TV last night that the case was too complicated. Huh? It was pretty straightforward and certainly no more complicated than other political corruption cases we've seen at the federal courthouse: Here are six instances in which the governor demanded campaign contributions in exchange for state action. And here are the tapes.

Most cases don't have tapes.

Matsumoto also said that maybe the government should have let Blagojevich go ahead with the sale of the Senate seat. But the law clearly does not require an act to be completed; as the government said, talk alone is conspiracy if it's furthered by a single act.

That didn't stop Roger Ebert from making a fool of himself on his Twitter feed.

"All thanks to Chicago Tribune for blowing the cover on the federal undercover investigation before Blago was able to collect," he tweeted.

First, that Tribune report came on Dec. 5, 2008 - after every other alleged act had been consummated.

Second, again, there was a lone holdout unlikely to be moved if the check to Blago had "U.S. Senate seat" written in the memo.

Third, the prosecution never indicated it arrested Blagojevich when it did because of the Tribune's revelation; in fact, the story probably arose from federal sources.

Fourth, again, the act didn't have to be completed to be criminal.

Finally, as if the Sun-Times wouldn't have published that story with war headlines on its cover.

It's just cheap and petty, but for as much praise as Ebert has gotten over his blog and non-movie writing, well, he needs a fact-checker and an editor because this isn't the first time - and I'm still a big fan of his movie writing - that he's gotten it terribly wrong. Stick to the cinema, Roger.

But that was par for the course for the pundit post-mortems.

That old nostrum about Blago not putting a penny into the pants of his half-million dollars' worth of suits arose from the dead, even though the allegations centered on campaign contributions.

And all of the sudden Patti earned every penny that Tony Rezko paid her even though nobody ever saw her in the office.

Just as suddenly, reporters wondered why Rezko wasn't called to the stand; "For reasons we don't understand," one TV reporter said, even though the judge himself stated in open court that Rezko was "toxic" to both sides because of his unreliability and unpredictable nature.

Another TV genius talked about what a great witness meth-raver Stuart Levine would have made.

And that Lincoln quote from Patrick Fitzgerald that the media can't seem to get over? Fitzgerald always makes a comment like that when announcing an indictment.

When Rezko was indicted, Fitzgerald said it was "Pay-to-Play On Steroids"; when George Ryan was indicted, Fitzgerald said "The state of Illinois was for sale."

Lincoln rolling over in his grave is hardly inappropriately inflammatory.

Bear in mind that that almost the entire inner circle of Rod Blagojevich pled guilty and testified against him. They were all guilty but he isn't?

Sometimes juries get it wrong.

For example, one member of the inner circle who escaped prosecution was deputy governor Bradley Tusk. The jury had at one point agreed to convict Blagojevich on an alleged scheme to shake down a school in Rahm Emanuel's congressional district, but upon re-reading Tusk's testimony, one juror again changed their mind.

Funny because Tusk testified that he thought Blagojevich's scheme was illegal.

And yet, Scott Turow was moved to write in the New York Times that "the unwillingness of one or more jurors to convict Mr. Blagojevich of anything but bare-faced lying makes some sense. I suspect the jury's indecision might have been a reaction at some level to the hypocritical mess our campaign financing system has become, especially in light of recent Supreme Court jurisprudence about political donations."

Really? Was that it?

I guess if the New York Times offers you some space you've got to come up with something that sounds smarter than "What a terrible jury."

But then, they were picked from a pool of us.

Somehow, the guy who tweeted this has a show on MSNBC:

"They got Blago on 'Lying to federal agents'? Lying is a crime now? What else gets you jail time? 'Tardiness'? 'Bad table manners'?"

Um, yeah, lying to federal agents is a crime now. It's considered tantamount to perjury and the law against it is designed to both bolster the integrity of the criminal justice system and act as one helluva deterrent against bullshit artists. Yuk yuk.

But it's not just unctuous cable TV talkers getting it wrong.

Consider pundits - not journalists - like Harvard man (magna cum laude) and Atlantic Monthly writer Matt Yglesias, a popular liberal blogger.

From his Twitter stream:

"Real talk: Blago was a pretty good governor, all things considered. about 15 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone."

Maybe at this point someone clued Yglesias in to the testimony about Blago only working a few hours a week and hiding in the bathroom when he didn't want to make a decision - not to mention being impeached and removed from office by his own party.

"Reassessing my positive view of Blago based on newfound knowledge of the facts. about 12 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone."

These people get paid a lot of money to opine about things such as, oh, merit pay for teachers and how dumb kids are today. They are overly ambitious, overly vain, and hold themselves in much higher regard than deserved, perhaps because society has rewarded them for being dolts.

It occurs to me: They think they can talk their way around anything and that they'll never be held accountable. Sound familiar?

Sometimes juries get it wrong, but not as frequently as the media does. In the court of public opinion, our former governor was certainly tried by his peers.


The Beachwood Tip Line: Peer review.


Posted on August 18, 2010

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