Whether it's a result of inartful
prosecutions, confusing legal instructions, sketchy defendants, bad karma, selfish individualists, or just a dog-days-of-summer sort of thing, it's clearly been a bad month for jurors in high-profile cases.
Last Tuesday, federal jurors in the corruption and obstruction trial of Rod Blagojevich threw up their hands
after weeks of exasperating deliberations and declared they were hung up on 23 of the 24 counts against the former Illinois governor. The deadlock and resultant mistrial already has spawned a new trial date for Blagojevich (January 2011
), great additional expenses of time and energy for lawyers, and many questions about how and why the panel could become so dysfunctional
toward the end of its deliberations.
Did cocky prosecutors fail to give jurors a traceable timeline? Were the wiretaps too complex? Or did some jurors just get sour? This is the group, remember, that asked the judge to send back to the jury room a copy of the text of the standard juror's oath -- just a few hours before formally declaring a deadlock. The oath was this: "Do each of you solemnly swear that you will well and truly try, and a true deliverance make, in the case now on trial and render a true verdict according to the law and the evidence, so help you God?" If you need to see this simple oath after three weeks of deliberations, some might argue, you don't deserve to be deliberating someone's fate.
It's easy to write off one bad jury. But jurors in another important and ongoing federal trial, the corporate fraud case
against David H. Brooks, appear to be even less dedicated than were their Second City counterparts. Brooks and a colleague are accused of stealing
hundreds of millions of dollars from his body armor company and defrauding the feds as well. Prosecutors have aimed to convince jurors that Brooks used the ill-gotten gains to pay for porn, hookers, race horses, and $100,000 belt buckles. The trial has involved evidence about the purported use of memory-erasing drugs and sex romps to Las Vegas. Indeed, if there were awards for these sorts of things, the Brooks trial would be a shoo-in
for trial of the year and certainly a candidate for a future made-for-television drama.
Last week, as deliberations at the federal courthouse in Central Islip, N.Y., rolled on, a member of Brooks' jury told the judge that some colleagues "sit there and read testimony that doesn't relate to the charges we are discussing." U.S. District Judge Joanna Seybert gave jurors what observers called a "pep talk" and then told the members of the panel to go back into their room and continue to deliberate. But this week another juror note came Judge Seybert
's way. It read: "I would like to be excused from the jury because there are people on the jury who at times do not add any input. . . . I feel that they are prolonging the case because they don't want to go back to work."
The good news, I guess, is that at least these bad-acting jurors appear to have jobs apart from judging Brooks. The bad news is that those jobs evidently pay less than the $40-per-day juror pay
the feds give out for service. But it gets worse. Last week, prosecutors initiated a grand jury proceeding into whether Brooks (and others) have engaged in some sort of jury tampering
. The issue arose when federal marshals discovered a note that Brooks was trying to conceal from them. It is unclear what's in the note, whether the jury-tampering concerns will be alleviated before the Brooks jury returns with a verdict, or whether the verdict will itself reveal clues about the alleged tampering. It's also unclear today whether Judge Seybert will initiate any form of contempt hearing for any jurors she believes may have violated their oath of service.
If anything, the government's evidence against Brooks was far stronger and more comprehensive than was the evidence against Blagojevich. If anything, and wiretaps or no, federal prosecutors were likely more confident that jurors would more easily see through Brooks' alleged plot than the complex political dance Blagojevich orchestrated. The implosion of one jury in a big criminal case is a bad result. The implosion of two in a row might be considered a trend. That's why Washington is watching Judge Seybert's courtroom more closely than usual these days.