Justice Done (Plus My Deep Dark Secret)
am occasionally reminded that a lot of folks have forgotten my deep, dark secret. I have spent a considerable part of my career in television, movies and politics – pretty high profile stuff. What is often forgotten, or not known, is my many years practicing law, much of it as a trial lawyer.
Although we’ve always been told to think otherwise, I never saw it as in any way inconsistent with my conservative political beliefs. From an early age I wanted to be that guy who would – and could – take a worthy client and stand against even powerful forces, including the government itself. The image of John Adams representing the British Redcoats after the Boston Massacre stayed with me. To take on that line of work one doesn’t even have to necessarily be sold on the virtue of your own client – just that he deserves representation and that our rule of law, better than any other, will most likely result in justice.
What Goes On In the Court Room Versus Media Interpretation
One of the things I learned over the years is that there is often a difference between what goes on in the courtroom versus what the media is reporting in the court of public opinion, even in highly publicized cases.
Reporters must summarize and place emphasis on the things they deem most important or newsworthy. That doesn’t mean that I don’t form opinions. It just means that I try to keep an open mind, knowing that I don’t have all of the facts – facts that a jury will have. For example, in the Trayvon Martin shooting case in Florida, the media had George Martin charged, tried and convicted of shooting an unarmed, innocent man. It is a case that is politically and racially charged and pressure was brought to bear immediately to charge Zimmerman with murder, which soon happened.
Now, as the facts come out, the case looks very different. A jury will have to decide, hopefully free of the pressures felt by the prosecutors and unnecessarily influenced by the media circus around the case.
The Sandusky Case
Occasionally, however, a case comes along that has me practically standing on my chair rooting for a particular verdict – when I’m convinced that our system of justice itself is on trial. Such is the case of ex-Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted Friday of 45 counts of child sex abuse. The question of guilt or innocence, whether for the most casual observer or members of the jury, boiled down to one question: Why would these eight young men put themselves, years later, through the torment of publicly describing the terrible things that Sandusky did to them?
Yet even before the verdict, another question kept going through my mind. Sandusky’s lawyer, a weird piece of work himself, said that plea negotiations were never attempted before the trial. My bet is that the prosecution would have at least listened to entreaties from the defense to open plea talks. After all, there are no slam-dunk cases and you never know how your witnesses are going to do on the witness stand. So, my question was, “What kind of perverted, evil, warped individual would put himself and his family through this sickening spectacle in the hope that some rabid Penn State fan might hang the jury?” As much as I consider myself a man of the law and a lover of even Sandusky’s constitutional rights, I must confess, I thought that his very presence in the courtroom attested to his guilt.
One of the commentators said that Sandusky looked “wistfully” at one of his victims while he was testifying. Could it be that deep within his own perversion, that he really didn’t think he had done anything wrong? If so, it’s an even more compelling reason why he should be put away for the rest of his life.
People like me, sitting at home, even with courtroom experience, thankfully don’t decide such matters. Jurors, who have a much higher calling, must put aside their prejudices. But I must say it sure felt good when their judgment in this case was the same as my own.
- Fred Thompson