Friday, July 19, 2013

Juror B37 and the Acquittal of George Zimmerman

As the bitter disappointment and initial anger subside after an all-female jury’s verdict in George Zimmerman’s trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin, provocative questions linger about their Not Guilty judgment.  It is, of course, appropriate to question not only whether the State Attorney’s Office, far more accustomed to convicting young black men rather than defending their rights, put their best effort forward in a case that was always going to be circumstantial but whether the entire judicial process failed to provide justice to the Martin family. 

Early on, Circuit Judge Debra Nelson handed the prosecution a critical blow when she ruled that ‘racial profiling’  could not be mentioned during the trial, limiting the State Attorney to only ‘profiling’ despite Zimmerman’s racially charged statements to the 911 operator.

Given juror B37’s unexpected timing and desire for public exposure with a lengthy public interviews with CNN’s Anderson Cooper as well as the refutation of her statements by four other jurors, it is also proper to consider her role in shaping the ultimate not guilty verdict.  Originally expressing surprise at the national demonstrations of outrage protesting the unfairness of the verdict and public cynicism at the failure of the judicial system, B37 stepped forward to make a multitude of stunning admissions. With considerable public attention focused on her, juror B37 announced a deal with a literary agent contacted on a Sunday afternoon to write a memoir with her attorney-husband about the trial.   Then, just as quickly, announced the next day that she would not be pursuing a literary career, perhaps with the forewarning that some of her juror peers were coming forward to dispute, in general terms, her version of events.   
One of six jurors, there is a reasonable question as to how the prosecution passed on B37 to allow her to be seated when most professional jury  selection consultants would have quickly raised red flags  not just regarding  her enigmatic responses but also displaying a less than open and inquiring mind.   See voir dire video here.  For instance, it could be argued that a distinct political bias existed as B37 repeated three times during voir dire that Sanford experienced ‘rioting’ which never occurred.   In a considerable stretch of credulity, she stated that she never, not once, not to her attorney husband or her two adult daughters (one of whom lives at home) expressed any opinion or discussed any of the events that were occurring in the community at the time and that no family member ever expressed an opinion to her.   Based on B37’s recent CNN interview, her earlier  commitment to both defense attorney Mark O’Mara and assistant state attorney Bernie de la Rionda during voir dire that she had not formed an opinion in the case, had not been influenced or had any predisposition either way is now in serious doubt. 
 If, in fact, B37 was as uninformed as she claimed, where did she get the idea that rioting had occurred? 
 While she  was encouraging the prosecution and defense to believe that she was a totally disinterested  citizen  who would be an unbiased juror and stressed her availability to be sequestered, we now know  that  B37 emerged during her Cooper interviews  speaking authoritatively about the legal implications of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law and was considerably more opinionated than she had been during voir dire; thus, now unencumbered by the need for neutrality to parrot virtually every “theory of defense’ element used by Zimmerman’s attorneys.   
We don’t yet know exactly what it was in her statements that prompted four other jurors to publicly distance themselves from B37’s media grab but it has raised questions as to her leadership during  jury deliberations including her new-found assertiveness, a marked departure from her more reserved yet prickly style during voir dire.   Still unknown is which juror served as  “foreman’ but if it was B37, that would account for her assuming a public platform as if spokesperson for the entire jury as well as having  encouraged  her to assume an influential role during deliberation.   
More explicit detail on B37’s assertion that the jury spent ‘hours deliberating over the law’  including her follow up “that’s how we got to the point of everybody being not guilty” is a crucial statement and might  shed light on how and why three jurors originally in favor of a guilty verdict turned around to acquit Zimmerman.   Unless one of the other jurors has an attack of conscience to clear the public record, we may never know  whether B37 was a ringer right out of John Grisham’s  Runaway Jury  or simply a bored housewife desirous of writing a best seller or whether her attorney co-author husband might have influenced her  participation and the final verdict in any way.   
Confused Jury instructions have been cited as leading the jurors to acquit Zimmerman as another of Judge Nelson ‘s rulings from the bench benefitted the defense when she withdrew the ‘first aggressor’ instruction which could have allowed the jury to find Zimmerman the ‘initial aggressor’; thereby denying his claim of self-defense.

Monday, July 1, 2013

NSA Revelations Refute Obama interview

While much of the country’s media was tracking whistleblower Edward Snowden’s whereabouts or questioning Glenn Greenwald’s journalistic credentials, President Obama took the opportunity to support NSA’s massive surveillance programs in a recent interview with Charlie Rose.

Ever cool and personable, even as his approval ratings continued to slide, the president’s enviable ability to remain unruffled in defense of  the government’s highly controversial surveillance policy deflects a deeper understanding of what makes the inner man tick.   As the conversation moved from the shambles of war in the mideast and onto NSA’s role, the President maintained his usual upbeat and optimistic demeanor uttering predictable responses; yet following a one-dimensional script disconnected from the magnitude of the country’s disapproval.  
As the Obama Administration has favored a big stick approach instead of diplomacy in its demands for the return of Snowden, with Secretary of State John Kerry and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in screed-mode displaying little political finesse.  Kerry hilariously called on other countries to ‘uphold the rule of law’ and predicted that ‘people may die” while the insipid Schumer was threatening Russia with ‘serious consequences’all that came before the revelation that NSA had been collecting data on  many of our European allies since 2010.
Russian President Valdimir Putin brushed off the US snit-fit as “ravings and rubbish” as the President joined  Rose just prior to attending the G8 meeting in Ireland where he was attacked in the Irish Parliament as a ‘war criminal’ and the target of protest demonstrations in Berlin and South Africa. 
President Obama responded to the allegation of Chinese cyber hacking US private and public sectors assuring Charlie that “we had a very blunt conversation about cyber security” suggesting that he administered a stern dressing-down to President Xi Jinping with “this can adversely affect the fundamentals of US/China relationship” at their meeting in early June in California.

What is key here is that the conversation with President Xi was prior to the Snowden disclosure that the US had hacked Tsinghua University, Pacnet, Asia’s largest independent tele communications service and the City of Hong Kong.  One can only imagine President Xi’s chagrin upon belatedly discovering that after having been chastised by Obama, that the US President was fully aware that the US had been doing exactly what China was being accused of.  Here was an opportunity for Charlie to clarify how the foregoing endangers ‘national security’ or  determine whether the real crime is more like intense political embarrassment.

As the interview moved to the 1.7 billion electronic messages intercepted each day, the President skillfully described how innocuous, how matter-of-fact  NSA surveillance was as he offered the “unequivocal ” assurance that  NSA cannot listen to your telephone calls or read your email without a ‘probable cause’ warrant from the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Security Act) Court.  Unfortunately for the President, the entire world now knows that the President’s assertion does not jibe with top secret rules signed by Attorney General Holder in 2009 (and revealed by Edward Snowden) which details the procedure for data collection of US and non-US persons.

Charlie missed the scoop of his life when he failed to ask the President if he supported the omnipotent  ability of General Keith Alexander, NSA Director to intercept all communications of every Member of Congress, every Fortune 500 CEO and members of the Cabinet including The Big Man on Campus himself. 

With earnestness, the President offered repeated assurances that sufficient oversight and safeguards were in place describing the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Security Act) court as ‘transparent’ with ‘independent federal judges overseeing the entire program’ adding that ‘you’ve got Congress overseeing the program.  Not just the intelligence committee, not just the judiciary committee but all of Congress.”   

But that’s not exactly how it works, Mr. President -  only select members of Congress (without staff) are allowed to visit the inner sanctum where uber-classified documents are secreted.   They are prohibited from taking any notes and depart without any copies of documents to review.

Assurances of  legislative oversight are at odds with Senators Mark Udall and Ron Wyden, among other Members of Congress,  who have been requesting documentation and complaining about NSA’s  stonewall citing “significant inaccuracies” regarding safeguards for American citizens.   Most recently, 26 Senators have written  James Clapper, National Intelligence Director to protest a secret reinterpretation of the Patriot Act (thus creating a new secret law) and its application to NSA data collection described by Sen. Wyden as raising "serious civil liberty concerns and all but removes the public from an informed national security and civil liberty debate.”

The FISA Court was established in 1979 to oversee requests for surveillance warrants with eleven judges appointed by the Chief Justice with one to be on-call 24-7 for emergencies.  The court meets in secret, all proceedings are ex parte and evidence is presented only by the Department of Justice with no opportunity for the hearings or information collected to be public.    Since its formation, the court has denied eleven surveillance warrants out of over 33,000 warrant requests – far from the kind of ‘checks and balance’ that the President has assured.

Mention of the Court prompted Charlie to inquire whether ‘any of those (warrants) have been turned down?”  The President appeared not to hear the question and steered the conversation elsewhere, no doubt confident there would be no follow-up.   Undeterred, Charlie gave it another go when he asked ‘but has the FISA court turned down any requests?”  The President responded amiably, ‘first of all Charlie, the number of requests are surprisingly small’ but failed to elaborate.

With no discussion about how NSA surveillance has impeded the war on terror, the President was asked what’s going to change, was he going to give James Clapper any instructions?  The President announced that the intelligence community is now reviewing whether any unspecified declassifications would be appropriate - raising the question of how such declassification might impact the government’s case against Edward Snowden.

The President told Charlie he would meet with his Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board  which he described as made up of ‘independent citizens, including some fierce civil libertarians’ with the goal of setting up the structure for a “national conversation” on the broader question of surveillance.

Boasting that the NSA is “bigger and better than everybody else and we should take pride in that,”  the reality is that the President’s promises are feeble attempts to dissemble his way out of what may be the most severe, on-going crisis of his Presidency – the one that will taint his legacy into future generations.