By Paul Goldman
Editor's note: Paul Goldman is a guest columnist for DecisionVirginia.com. The views expressed below are his own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of NBC12.
“I have not yet begun to fight!” defiantly responded Navy Captain John Paul Jones to a dare from a British sailor during his revolutionary war sea battle off the coast of Northern England in 1779.
He and his men then proceeded to an unlikely victory over a bigger and better armed frigate. Sitting in the Courtroom yesterday, I asked myself: “When will the John Paul Jones of the McDonnell defense team hoist his sails?”
Why? Unless the former Governor and First Lady’s defense team starts – LIKE TODAY – raising the level of their “game”, the two of them are headed for prison. Federal prosecutor’s yesterday made a surprise move, concluding their direct testimony of star witness Jonnie Williams by mid-afternoon. The former Star Scientific Inc. CEO spent a total of one day – from Wednesday afternoon until yesterday afternoon – on the witness stand answering questions from the prosecutor’s workman-like lead. The federal government did an adequate job of building a factual case for what the Henrico businessman claimed to be a straight up “cash and carry” business exchange: Williams provided the loot in exchange for the McDonnell’s having agreed to help his company. No “smoking gun” having been presented, the government’s case against McDonnell remains, at its core, legally circumstantial, requiring the jury in the end to decide whether the Williams or the Governor –expected to take the stand later – is telling the truth.
Given the importance of Williams’ testimony, I had expected the Governor’s legal eagles, not the First Lady’s counsel, to take charge of cross-examining the Star Scientific founder.
BUT NO: The lawyer given first crack at Williams turned out to be Mrs. McDonnell’s defense counsel. Based on my research, the great defense attorneys would have taken the proverbial “meat axe” to Jonnie from jump street, going for the factual jugular, showing him to be the “master manipulator” and snake oil salesman claimed in their opening statements. BUT NO: Mrs. McDonnell’s defense counsel took an entirely different approach.
He never laid the proverbial glove on Mr. Williams, indeed purposely refrained from such verbal combat. He instead allowed Mr. Williams to engage in a monologue describing mostly various successful business ventures over the last 30 years.
Was this unexpected defense strategy geared to let the jury see a guy sufficiently glib and self-confident to sell snow to an Eskimo? If so, the defense got what it wanted.
But their strategy defies the best thinking on how to try a jury case. The winning strategy is usually the shortest distance between cause and effect. The KISS principle – KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID – is the best one, what I call your ole Newtonian straight-up cause and effect: X happened, Y resulted, don’t over think it.
Instead, the McDonnell strategy requires abstract thinking: you are required to follow the cue ball off two side cushions into the side pocket. The McDonnell defense team will now presumably circle back to the beginning, and try to expose all the stuff Williams glibly perfumed over. This is a legal strategy appealing to the A students at the big law firms running the former Governor’s defense.
Will it work? What I know is this: The prosecution made a huge blunder yesterday, so big it had to be the opening salvo yesterday when McDonnell’s team got to bat. The prosecution showed a video Williams and his company’s supporters actually claimed their latest product, the one at the heart of this case, is the most important discovery in medicine since penicillin!
I kid you not: The prosecution showed a video of the host to one of Williams’ investor meetings around the country making this ridiculous pitch.
Really Mr. Prosecutor? The government of the United States is asking me to convict someone on the word of the mastermind behind such blatant nonsense being peddled to fleece investors, the basic same MO he has used, even bragged about on the stand, for three decades.
EARTH TO MCDONNELL DEFENSE: They had best leave their legal elitism at home today. This is street justice time. It is kill or be killed. Defense lawyers have to give Mr. Williams what we call the Shad Treatment in politics, slice and dice him until there is nothing left.
Michael Corleone said in Godfather I, in time of war you need a wartime consigliere.