I have no personal quarrel with ESPN’s Lester Munson. I don’t know his background or his specific area of expertise. I know that when he is asked to explain to lay people the general gist of any legal issue that touches sports he tends to do an OK job. He’s good at the “OK, what happens next” part of things, which is probably the thing sports fans want to know. I’ve dabbled in legal expertise business before, and that’s about 95% of the gig.
I do know, however, that he is most visibly promoted by ESPN when it comes to steroids in baseball stories, and I know that whenever he has been called to go beyond the “what happens next” aspect of that business, he has often gotten things pretty wrong.
The most notable instance I can remember of him stone cold whiffing was when the Barry Bonds prosecutors lost some preliminary evidentiary rulings a couple of years ago and took an appeal. I won’t bore you with the details, but the basis of the prosecution’s argument was an evidence concept called “the residual exception.” The important thing to know about the residual exception is that if you have to argue that your evidence is admissible on that basis, you’re screwed, dude. Almost every single person with a legal background knew that the prosecutors were screwed there too. But not Munson, who claimed “their chances are good” and otherwise gave them a tongue-bathing while slamming Judge Illston. He was wrong.
So color me unsurprised this morning when Munson’s column analyzing the Bonds verdict came out and it was filled with praise for the prosecution on a “major triumph,” and said that the defense “went 0 for 4” despite getting three hung juries, including one involving Bonds lying about steroids. I suppose reasonable people can disagree about whether the prosecution can declare a victory of some kind, but Munson’s hyperbole and reasoning is so far removed from common sense and reality that I almost got an attack of vertigo trying to wrap my brain around it.
Thankfully some others took it down: Wendy, at the Hanging Sliders blog, simply eviscerates Munson’s arguments. The point-by-point takedown is what you should really read, but the conclusion pretty much covers it:
I don’t know Munson nor do I know anything about his law practice. But I suggest that if you are suspected of committing a crime, you should hire an attorney who understands criminal, evidentiary and constitutional law better than Lester Munson apparently does.
Elie Mystal at the inimitable Above the Law blog goes after Munson too, and suffers from the same sort of vertigo that struck me, only with more F-words.
I don’t know what Munson’s deal is. At some point several years ago he fell in love with the prosecution’s case and hasn’t been able to see it objectively for some time. Or maybe he’s just out of his depth with this stuff. All I know for sure is that, given how often sports and law intersect these days, the self-proclaimed World Wide Leader in Sports should find someone who knows what the hell they’re talking about with this stuff.