Exploring the sheer absurdity of the Bonds verdict

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Having slept on it, here’s one more thought about the Bonds verdict that simply blows my mind.

Yesterday when I reacted to the verdict, I noted the absurdity of Bonds being convicted on his rambling answer in “Statement C” as listed in Count 5 of the indictment. That “Statement C” was Bonds saying, in response to a question about receiving injections, that Greg Anderson was a friend of his and that Bonds was a child of a celebrity. It was four brief beside-the-point statements. And, importantly, Bonds did eventually say unequivocally that, no, he didn’t receive injections. Take that for what it’s worth, but it was a clear answer to a clear question.

I thought it was crazy that such a statement — which had nothing to do with Bonds’ steroids use and in no way actually prevented the prosecution from getting an answer to its question — could form the basis of an obstruction of justice charge. I had missed it the first time around, but apparently Bonds’ lawyers identified the absurdity of this during jury instructions too.  From the San Jose Mercury News’ play-by-play (go to the 9:31 AM update):

9:31 a.m.: Bonds lawyer strenuously objects to one jury instruction

Before the judge began instructing the jury, Dennis Riordan, one of Bonds’ lawyers, objected strenuously to the instruction on the obstruction of justice count against Bonds, which enables the jury to find him guilty based on four separate statements. Some of those statements appear loosely tethered to the allegations that Bonds lied to a federal grand jury in December 2003 about using steroids.

For example, one of the statements covers the following response to a question about whether Bonds had ever been given anything from trainer Greg Anderson that required a syringe.

“That’s what keeps our friendship,” Bonds replied in rambling fashion. “You know, I am sorry, but that–you know that–I was a celebrity child, not just in baseball by my own instincts. I became a celebrity child, with a famous father. I just don’t get into other people’s business because of my father’s situation, you see….”

Riordan argued that the jury could clear Bonds of allegations connected to steroids and injections and, under the instruction, convict him of a felony through that statement, at least in theory. Quoting Karl Marx and his famous statement that history repeats itself twice, first as tragedy and then as farce, Riordan said such a conviction would be “utterly a farce.”

The judge didn’t agree, of course. Nor did she agree with this over the past few years when she had the opportunity to strike that part of the charge and did not, despite striking many others from the indictment.  You’d have to ask her why she allowed this to remain, but it makes no sense that such a statement, on its own, could constitute obstruction of justice.

There is not a single case in the history of Anglo-American jurisprudence in which a witness, at some point, didn’t go off on a tangent that was at least momentarily non-responsive to a question.  As a lawyer, you’re trained to reel the witness back in and focus him or her on the question. In court, if it gets bad, you get the judge to order the witness to answer the question that was asked. In a deposition you rephrase or say “that’s nice, but that’s not what I asked, what I asked was …”  Indeed, getting a witness to answer the question asked when he doesn’t want to or simply is unable to is a basic skill every trial lawyer learns.

But apparently not in the Northern District of California. There, when a witness goes off on a tangent, the precedent is now set: you bring felony charges against him. And it doesn’t matter if he later did answer the question, like Bonds did, or if he cannot be found to have lied or have obstructed justice in any way apart from his brief tangent.

Man, I wish I knew back when I was practicing law that I could have difficult witnesses charged with felony obstruction. It would have made my life so much easier if I didn’t have to prepare good questions and work to elicit the information I sought through the application of trial advocacy skills.  Oh well. You live and learn.

(thanks to Moshe for the Merc’s play-by-play re: the jury instruction)

Tyler Moore: the ballplayer everyone is talking about

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For those who don’t know, Alexa is Amazon’s digital assistant product. It’s Amazon’s version of Siri or Google Home, but you can use it for a lot more stuff if you have a device such as the Amazon Echo. With simple voice commands it can turn on your lights, turn up your air conditioner, play your music, order stuff you’re running out of, answer questions you have and a bunch of other things. It may also snitch on you to the CIA, but that’s a topic left for another day.

Anyway, Amazon is pretty proud of its product and today sent me a press release touting how fans use Alexa to “get player stats, team records, starting lineups and more!” Amazon also gave me a list telling me how baseball fans have used Alexa in the past year:

“As we enter the MLB playoffs this year, we wanted to share a snapshot of the most asked about MLB players and teams among fans throughout this season, according to Alexa.”

Cool! I love lists. Let’s see who Alexa users are searching for!

Top 10 Asked About Players this MLB Season:

1. Tyler Moore
2. Albert Pujols
3. Aaron Judge
4. Mike Trout
5. Bryce Harper
6. David Ortiz
7. Alex Rodriguez
8. Anthony Rizzo
9. Clayton Kershaw
10. Chris Young

I don’t have any problem with 2-9 on this list, but I gotta tell ya friends, I’m not sure that America’s most searched-for ballplayer is a guy who Baseball-Reference.com lists first as a “pinch hitter” who is sporting a line of .206/.247/.377 for a team ranking 28th out of 30 in attendance this year. I’m also skeptical of Chris Young at number ten, and that’s even if you put the search totals for BOTH Chris Youngs together and count them as one.

It’s possible that there is far greater national curiosity for Moore and Young than I realized.  It’s also possible that Moore and Young’s parents are just heavy duty Alexa users.

I suspect though, quite strongly, that Alexa — or the P.R. staff touting its abilities — is having trouble distinguishing between Tyler Moore and Mary Tyler Moore, who passed away back in January and was likely the subject of many more people’s curiosity than the Nationals’ 2008 16th round draft pick. Though, I’m sure, if given the chance, Tyler could turn the world on with his smile too.

All of which might be a bit distressing for Amazon, given that it’s their business to make sure customers get what they’re looking for. It’s good for us as human beings, however, because it suggests that, perhaps, we are much farther away from the Rise of the Machines than we sometimes suspect.

Brad Ausmus seems to know he’s a dead man walking

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The Tigers have been terrible and the embarked on a rebuild this summer, shipping off Justin Verlander and multiple other players. Miguel Cabrera is hurt and may never be his old MVP-level self. It is, without a doubt, that the Tigers and their fans are about to begin a new chapter in the franchise’s history.

Such new chapters usually involve new managers. Fourth-year manager Brad Ausmus is still at the helm and the Tigers have made no public statement about his future. Ausmus, however, is a lame duck, with his contract ending a week from Sunday. He is also no fool. He seems to know very well that he’s not going to be around next year. From Katie Strang of The Athletic:

Ausmus, of course, has been on the hot seat several times. When Detroit exercised his option for this year, their refusal to extend it sent a pretty clear signal.

If this is the end of the road in Detroit for Baseball’s Most Handsome Manager, it will end with him having missed the playoffs in three of his four seasons at the helm of a star-studded team that was expected to Win Now, as they say. Yes, there were a lot of issues with the Tigers — their bullpen has always been a problem and the brass made a lot of questionable choices in signings and trades over the past few years — but there is no escaping the fact that Ausmus’ Tigers under achieved.