A couple weeks ago, I mentioned that Lewis Gillis had withdrawn from the Siegelman-Scrushy case, and I subsequently forgot to mention that Gillis also withdrew from the SEC case a few days ago. And today, another Scrushy attorney and veteran of the Birmingham trial, also withdrew from the SEC case. Donald Watkins had long departed the scene, but until today, he was still officially attached to the SEC case.
Watkins’ role in Scrushy’s Birmingham defense is well known and has been well documented, so I won’t rehash this much. He not only assembled a Dream Team of local and regional attorneys that put on a dazzling tag-team defense strategy that served to underscore and isolate the shaky elements of the government’s weak case, but he was also a lawyer who understood the societal and social aspects of practicing law, and that the government does not file charges in a vacuum. His efforts were often called public manipulation or an attempt to influence the jury.
Regardless of the other roles he had on the Scrushy defense team, one measure of the success he had in the realm of bridging the gap between his client and the people who would ultimately be asked to hear the case can be seen in the government’s recent motion in the Siegelman-Scrushy case. They filed this motion, in part, because apparently his efforts were so effective and the government feared his abilities at shaping public opinion so much they felt they must rebut him even though he was never part of the Siegelman-Scrushy case, in any official capacity. And by all accounts, he’s now ensconced in Miami Beach and busily pursuing extra-legal interests and activities. Watkins is presumably still a friend of Richard Scrushy and there’s a good chance he keeps in touch with him; and if he has the time, probably follows the ongoing cases from afar. And evidently, he is still the boogieman of the US Government.
It is this last role that I wanted to discuss just a bit. It is fitting to talk about this now he is gone because fearing his long shadow, the Government has seen fit to do just the same, to talk about his presence even after he left the scene. Maybe it was his parting shot, but they chose to single out at least two of his recent statements, that still linger over Alabama. I believe that both were very true statements even though the government cast them as fallacious, and even dangerous to the ears of Scrushy’s potential jurors. And I don’t mean to belabor this point as this was briefly discussed after the government’s over-the-top motion, but the attitude and perception of the government is extremely relevant to this case and what has been happening to Mr. Scrushy. In the same manner that I have discussed the attitudes and perceptions that effected events at HealthSouth or in the Birmingham trial, it is important to place the next chapter of this story within this context.
One of Watkins’ statements was that there will come a time, during a juror’s service, when he looks over at the Defense table, and he says, “That could be me over there.” ‘We may need to expand his basic statement a little bit, and to add some qualifiers, but he is absolutely right. And if certain government attorneys really don’t realize and understand the truth of this statement, then they have serious problems in their understanding of the jury system. But the main qualifier has to do with the government’s burden of proof. Think about it for a moment. Put yourself in the juror’s chair. If the government is having trouble coming up with any real evidence, if the government is floundering and doesn’t seem to be able to articulate their case in anything other than legal double-speak, then there will come that time, when you look at the defendant and you openly wonder if someday you could be sitting in that chair watching the government trying to build a week case against you. But on the other hand, if the evidence is strong and clear, if the government is confident and poised in their presentation, then when you look over at the defendant, you’ll know and understand that that person is not you and that you’ll never be sitting in his chair. The jury system is flawed, of course, and there are possibilities for manipulation, but in a very real sense, Donald Watkins had his finger on the exact reason why and how the system should work. We use our peers because it really could be them. It is frightening to think that the government apparently believes they can put on just about any case they want, and expect the detached jury to ignore their legal inadequacies for no other reason then that they are the Government. No matter what your personal feelings about Richard Scrushy, and no matter what side you have been on during these trials, you almost have to believe in that.
And in the other statement made by Watkins that the government found so dangerous, and used it as indicative of Scrushy’s underhanded defense strategy, was that the government should be on trial. I am not much of a conspiracist or a government gadfly or someone who has any particular interest in tearing down our government, but yet I believe that our government should be on trial every single day. If any of the US attorneys involved in this case, or in any case, or if there are any other government officials that truly believe that their actions should not be scrutinized and held up to the highest standards, then I would openly question their ability to serve the interests of the people of the United States, or to sufficiently understand their role in the US government. Because we are a democracy and because we have a Constitution, the US Government should always be on trial. The attorneys prosecuting Scrushy in Montgomery should be. Those people who showed up in Birmingham, via Washington DC, should be. The people who appointed and promoted them should be. And our elected officials should be. And before the issue comes up, it should also be noted that I am hardly suggesting that there is necessarily criminal or corrupt activity within any of the groups I have mentioned, but only that they should be subject to public scrutiny and review. Like every other citizen of this country, I believe they should be given the benefit of a doubt and their guilt or unfitness to serve us should only be established after a review of the evidence, but I don’t think they should ever believe or think or indicate, as they did in that particular tantrum-motion, that they are somehow above the process. Because today it may be Scrushy, but tomorrow, it really might be the rest of us.
As I’ve said before, I didn’t believe in everything Donald Watkins said, and certainly wasn’t much of a fan of his bluster and posturing, but he knew language, he could put the hype in hyperbole, and I’ll miss him for that.
A couple more odds and ends:
A few weeks ago, I published a couple of lines that appeared on the US Strategies Corporation’s website, Eric Hanson’s company. It was kind of an interesting admission from the site of someone who will most certainly be a witness in the upcoming trial. In a routine sweep, checking for changes in anything relevant, I noticed this site was down continuously for a couple of days. So I called US Strategies to see if anything was up with this, and to make sure they were still in the corporate galaxy. They were surprised about the site, saying they did not know it was down and that a tech had been working on it. But various tests indicated the site (i.e. the server) was still apparently up and running, and only the content was changed or missing. If anyone is interested, the information I published is still available by using the Wayback Machine.
As most of the people who follow this site probably already know, Jack Abramoff got almost 6 years in prison. Oddly enough, I can see the Sun Cruz Casino’s dock from my house, and it passes my living room window every day. Circumstances surrounding the sale of SunCruz is what landed Mr. Abramoff in prison. The bad guys still go to jail and truth wins out. I’m not going to go much further because I don’t know that much about him although he was an associate of a lobbyist I once worked for, but think about what good this guy has really done for this world. Now that he is heading for prison, what does he have to show for it? Lobbying is not illegal even though many people think it should be, or at least stronger laws should be passed to regulate it. I am simplifying here because there are some ripples that extend outward, as there always are, but lobbying and doing business is not why he’s going to jail. Remember that as we get ready to meet again in Montgomery.