Throat Clearing

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Reason has obviously taken Martha Stewart's side throughout her trial. I have been having some fun at the expense of juror Chappell Hartridge and his Barton Fink routine. (By the way, have my fellow Americans even been looking at their 401ks in recent months? My IRAs are doing fine; they're almost back to where they were a few years ago, and I was invested in all dotcom funds.)

However (and this may be the result of listening to 12 hours of cable-borne talking heads trying to persuade me that the System Has Worked), I think the jury ruled pretty much appropriately. To play I The Jury for a minute: I could have found grounds for reasonable doubt on all counts, but I would have been reaching for it, or at least being selective in my evitentiary preferences. On one count where there was reasonable doubt (the one concerning the dueling pens and Bacanovic's "@60" notation), the jury acquitted.

I'd still have voted to acquit (if I'd had the balls—and no guarantee there), but that's because I believe in jury nullification. You can't reasonably expect twelve people selected for averageness to believe in it too.

For various reasons, abundantly detailed elsewhere, this was a kangaroo court. The SEC is the same cesspool it was when Joe Kennedy ran the show. The investigation was a witch hunt, and Martha Stewart had a natural right to lie to John Ashcroft's jackbooted thugs. But the jurors were just following orders, and are blameless—though Hartridge deserves mockery for his grandstanding.

NEXT: When Democrats Define Libertarianism

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  1. “I could have found grounds for reasonable doubt on all counts, but I would have been reaching for it, or at least being selective in my evitentiary preferences.”

    Huh? As I saw it, the prosecutions case rested on the testimony of two witnesses, one cut a deal to hang Martha to save his own ass and the other testified that she couldn’t remember if what she testified to was what Martha said or just the voices in her own head! Looks to me like there was reasonable doubt written all over the shower of anvils clanging down throughout this case.

  2. I agree with Tim that blaming this on the jury is pointless. But I’m not as willing as Richard to let the attorney general off the hook, although I agree with him that there’s a larger “ultimate problem”. The abuse of prosecutorial discretion is a major factor in the decay of the government’s constitutional role of protecting individual rights. There are many reasons for the rise of abuse: Unqualified prosecutors, judges who place expediency over objective law, bad jury pools, etc. But I do think the attorney general, of all people, has a constitutional and ethical duty to exercise control over the process. John Ashcroft is either incapable or unwilling to exercise this control, I’m not sure which.

  3. I’m not an expert on the SEC, on stock transactions, on “information disclosure,” on any of it. Matter of fact, it all kind of makes my head spin.

    That’s usually a handy marker for me — a good sign that the government is involved in something that hinders freedom. When something involves esoteric terminology, reams of paperwork and nuances the average American can’t understand, then it’s a safe bet it has something to do with liberty being taken away.

    Freedom is real simple. It doesn’t involve attorneys and labyrinthine regulations and technicalities.

    I don’t know exactly what went down with this whole Martha Stewart thing, but I have little doubt it has something to do with the federal government denying freedom to somebody.

  4. What Sam said.

  5. Here I am looking at the H&R part of reason to see if there is anything cool to read or write about. But there is all this crap about Martha.

    Martha, Martha, Martha.

    It seems to me like she did something she wasn’t supposed to do and then obstructed justice. And got caught. So what?

    Shouldn’t the folks at reason be writing about somebody who refused to pay taxes and was convicted, or something like that? That I could get behind.

  6. Even for someone who is as lightly invested as I am, the idea that criminal charges can be levied based, not on black letter law, but on nuances of regulations as interpreted by ephemeral majorities of the SCOTUS, is troubling. This is “everything that is not mandatory is forbidden” in real life.

    FREE MARTHA!

  7. I blame the jury for being a bunch of fools complicit in this fictional imitation of justice. Sadly, federal juries these days seem to almost always be stooges, fools, and patsies for the prosecution. But I do hold them personally responsible for returning that verdict.

    As for DOJ and the prosecutor, well their loathsomeness knows no bounds. I don’t worry about how they can sleep at night because everyone knows vampires don’t sleep.

  8. I haven’t posted about Martha before, but, correct me if I’m wrong:
    If she really had a stop-loss order at 60, it would have been fully documented and verifiable.
    So why did she lie?
    Is she a domestic diva idiot savant?

  9. All this hoopla over $40-$50 k? Christ, why don’t they just make her pay restitution, then sling hash in the tackiest indigent soup kitchen in NYC for a year or two. Keeping her smirking puss off TV is all the justice I personally require.

  10. I think the lesson here is, if the Feds call on you, call your lawyer and then shut up.

  11. Gadfly said:
    “However, P&E’s are still WAY out of whack for tech stocks and interest rates are 1% with nowhere to go but up.

    SELL! ”

    Who are you really, Alan Greenspan?

  12. “My IRAs are doing fine; they’re almost back to where they were a few years ago, and I was invested in all dotcom funds.)”

    With a half trillion of tax breaks to the investing class, no wonder the market’s back – artificially, some say. However, P&E’s are still WAY out of whack for tech stocks and interest rates are 1% with nowhere to go but up.

    SELL!

  13. The SEC was designed to eliminate fraud. But if fraud was eliminate, then investor return should increas and companies should have lower failure rates, that was the intention behind creating the SEC. Is it true? Investor return, on average, is the same today as it was before the SEC was created and, on average, the failure rate of companies is a touch higher today than it was pre-SEC. The only thing the SEC did was shield average investors (who didn’t have access to the debt ratings of Enron and Worldcom) by giving a minimum information disclosure floor for companies.

    As soon as the FDA knew that it was going to hold back Imclone’s drug, it should have immediately disclosed that information to the public rather than sit on it and allow others to profit off of it. Martha Stewart never should have been privvy to that information, but who leaked it? It is obvious that someone at the FDA leaked it. Are they on trial? Who should be? Martha Stewart? Or the leaker? Who causes more damage to the markets? The Martha Stewarts, or the people we trust in our government to safeguard and protect information?

    Blaming this on John Ashcroft is ignoring the ultimate problem with trusting the government to protect the average person.

  14. Its a sad day when a libertarian accepts “I was just following orders” as a valid excuse. Say it aint so, Tim.

  15. …it all kind of makes my head spin…. That’s usually…a good sign that the government is involved in something that hinders freedom… I don’t know exactly what went down…but I have little doubt it has something to do with the federal government denying freedom to somebody.

    10: bleat “Four legs good, two legs bad”
    20: goto 10

  16. The Martha case is really troubling for the folks at TalkLeft. They hate the rich, but they love criminal defendants. It seems they have generally come out in favor of Martha, but the reasoning is a little odd. They seem to think that Martha was targeted by the DOJ because she supports Democrats.

    http://talkleft.com/new_archives/005557.html#005557

  17. Martha Stewart had a natural right to lie to John Ashcroft’s jackbooted thugs. But the jurors were just following orders, and are blameless

    Nicely done, Tim. It’s important for principled backers of free market capitalism like yourself to make an ipse dixit case in favor of corruption in the marketplace. Some semblance of honesty and corporate fiduciary duty is no longer an unquestioned precursor to the operation of free markets. Apparently, the square dealing underlying the market and encoded into the market regulations has now become a hideous moral code imposed by those nasty religious conservatives, and we bong-water drinking libertarians oughtta try to stamp it out any chance we get. This philosophy would, of course, go a long way toward explaining Reason’s championing of online music theft (AKA downloading).

    At the same time though, I’m puzzled by that second statement. Is it an indictment of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s regulatory system and AG Ashcroft as Nazis, and the jurors as poor Chermans caught up in the system (e.g. “we jurors were just following orders”) or are you implying that jurors applying the law in securities law cases are akin to death camp guards? Just curious.

    Reason’s reporting on this issue has really covered you in glory. I wonder what Milton Friedman thinks about the idea that bosses should be allowed to pressure subordinates into lying to cover up trades based on insider information, in order to thwart legitimate government inquiries into market corruption? But then, Friedman always has supported some reasonable regulation of the market place, so I guess he could never hack it in this zone of libertarian purity.

  18. A little note on jury nullification, if I might. I was called recently to serve on a jury, but was excused when I decided I could not in good conscience convict a person of the charge being brought against them. (The crime was a serious one, neither benign nor victimless, but the defendant seemed to have played a secondary role in it.) The prosecutor knew the law would be considered a technicality by many, knew it might be an issue of contention among citizens, and asked repeatedly and explicitly, during voir dire, whether there was anyone among us who could not convict a person of the crime the defendant was alleged to have committed. The prosecution pounded quite heavily on this point. They did not want anyone anywhere near the courtroom who had doubts about the suitability of the state law the defendant was alleged to have broken. Jury nullification is one thing, but lying (during voir dire, for example) is quite another. It’s not a step I was prepared to take. Whether it would have been a suitable strategy in this case against Martha Stewart I’ll leave for others to decide.

  19. “My IRAs are doing fine; they’re almost back to where they were a few years ago”

    Ron Paul tends to believe this is because of the Fed increasing the money supply.

    http://www.lewrockwell.com/paul/paul162.html

  20. “The SEC was designed to eliminate fraud. But if fraud was eliminate, then investor return should increas and companies should have lower failure rates, that was the intention behind creating the SEC. Is it true? Investor return, on average, is the same today as it was before the SEC was created and, on average, the failure rate of companies is a touch higher today than it was pre-SEC.’

    Given the increase in corporate and economic complexity over the past 60 years, and the growth of stock ownership by middle class people like me who don’t know dick about investment vehicles, the fact that fraud has remained level would seem to be a great victory.

  21. I think the jury’s decision to acquit Bacanovic on the charge of making false documents while convicting both he and Stewart on the false statement charges is so contradictory that my head spins. How can oral statements that a $60.00 agreement existed be false while the written documentation that supports the existence of such an agreement be legitimate? Ms. Koch is right, every trial sets a precedent. It is us little people who will pay for the jury’s mistake. When the government says we’ve committed a crime, we have to prove that we haven’t. Welcome to the new America.

  22. EMAIL: nospam@nospampreteen-sex.info
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    DATE: 05/20/2004 09:55:41
    Perceptions do not limit reality.

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