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.
With all due respect to Bob and Maureen McDonnell’s high-priced legal talent, someone charged with a parking ticket is likely to get a more passionate, “I’m outraged at the injustice perpetrated on my client” defense than Virginia’s former first couple. Don’t get me wrong, I am not looking for Clarence Darrow. But according to the McDonnell’s lawyers, Bob and Maureen are innocent citizens having honorably served their Commonwealth, yet now unjustly accused and facing the statistical equivalent of life imprisonment for crimes they didn’t commit.
So, am I wrong to expect -- by Day 12 -- a moving moment of outrage at least once by one of these legal eagles when cross-examining the witnesses produced by the prosecution to send their clients to prison? I haven’t seen it. Perhaps, it occurred when I wasn’t there and the news media decided not to report it.
In The Godfather, Tom Hagan (played by Robert Duvall) is consigliere [top advisor] to Don Vito Corleone (played by Marlon Brando). But when new Don Michael Corleone (played by Al Pacino) takes over, he unceremoniously replaces Hagan. Their exchange takes place in the old Don’s study.
Tom: Mike, why am I out?
Michael: You’re not a war-time consigliere, Tom. Things may get rough with the moves we’re trying [like yeah, the Corleone’s intend to assassinate the heads of the New York crime families].
Day after day, the able prosecution team, if you believe the defense, continues to doggedly present witness after witness, document after document, all with one purpose: to justify railroading two innocent Virginians.
This is war, not a movie script or a card game. One doesn’t have to be Al Pacino to realize the McDonnells don’t have a war-time consigliere at the defense table.
There is a difference between legal smarts and street justice smarts. There are great lawyers and there are great trial lawyers.
Reality check: A courtroom battle especially a public corruption case, has a significant element of theatre. It might offend “pure” lawyers, and those so acting can expect stern admonishment from Judge Spencer, who is the epitome of the no-nonsense jurist. But your client is facing ruin. Yet he or she has to sit quietly in the courtroom. His or her supposed outrage at being unjustly charged can only be expressed through the defense lawyers.
I ain’t feeling “the love” as the saying goes. Even the most guilt person deserves a passionate defense where necessary.
I am a realist, one reason I would like to think my strategies to make history for candidate Doug Wilder worked well enough. So let me blunt. The prosecution is all-white, same for the defense. That’s a baker’s dozen slices of white bread, with only two women. That ain’t this jury. Any sensible defense team strategy is going to, at a minimum, have a savvy African-American Richmond-area trial lawyer – we have several as good as any anywhere – in a lead position.
More passion, more street smarts, more moral outrage can only help. As a general rule, a jury needs to have some sympathy for the defendant to let him or her totally walk. Right now, it is hard to see how the jury has any such feelings.
As indicated above, the prosecution witnesses conceded the government had been targeting the McDonnells far earlier than previously admitted, indeed the top investigator had already been contemplating giving Jonnie Williams an immunity deal in 2012 – not 2013 – in order to trap the first family. Say what?
The government also revealed using a state policeman permanently assigned to physically protect Governor McDonnell – and thus required to get close like a Secret Service agent guarding the President – to spy on the first family and report back to the investigators. Say what?
But McDonnells' lawyers, after asking a few generic questions, didn’t find any outrage here, as they haven’t anywhere.
For gosh sakes! This cries out for moral outrage by the defense.
Juries want to be fair. But if the defense team isn’t bothered, then why should they consider whether the government has not been totally transparent about their efforts to convict the McDonnells for public corruption offenses almost every living Virginia Attorney General has publicly said didn’t seem illegal to them?