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)

Starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani will pinch-hit and pinch-run for the Angels in 2018

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The Angels’ bench is looking woefully thin this winter — so thin, in fact, that manager Mike Scioscia says he’s considering utilizing starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani as a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner on the days he’s not scheduled to pitch.

I’ve never had a pitcher pinch-run,” Scioscia told reporters Saturday. “There’s more bad than good that can come out of it. But Shohei is not just a pitcher. He’s a guy that has the ability to do some of the things coming off the bench, whether it’s pinch-hit or pinch-run, and we’re definitely going to tap into that if it’s necessary, because we feel we’re not putting him at risk. It’s something he’s able to do.

Granted, spring training allows for a certain amount of experimentation before managers and players decide what works best for them, so this may not be the strategy the Angels employ for the entire season. In addition to coming off the bench between starts, Ohtani is also expected to see 2-3 days at DH every week, forcing Albert Pujols to shift over to first base to accommodate the new two-way star.

Ohtani’s hitting prowess has already been well-documented — he has a lifetime .286/.358/.500 batting line from NPB and crushed a batting practice home run during his initial workouts with the team this week — but his skills on the basepaths have received less attention so far. MLB Pipeline describes the 23-year-old phenom as a “well-above average runner” whose speed has yet to manifest stolen bases: he’s nabbed just 13 bases in 17 chances over the last five years. That’s a number Scioscia hopes to see increased this season, though he doesn’t want his ace pitcher making any head-first slides on the basepaths to do so.

To be sure, it’s an unorthodox role for any young player to step into, but if anyone can pull it off, Ohtani can.