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)

Dallas Keuchel is unlikely to return before the All-Star break

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Astros’ left-hander Dallas Keuchel might not return to the rotation before the All-Star break, Houston manager A.J. Hinch told reporters prior to Sunday’s game. The club placed their star southpaw on the 10-day disabled list on June 8, retroactive to June 5, after a nerve issue was revealed in his neck.

Keuchel has taken a conservative approach to his recovery over the last several weeks, and while he appears to have made some progress, still has yet to throw off the mound. The injury interrupted the start of an outstanding run with the Astros, during which the 29-year-old lefty furnished a 9-0 record with a 1.67 ERA, 2.1 BB/9 and 8.2 SO/9 through his first 75 2/3 innings of 2017.

According to Hinch, it’s certainly possible that Keuchel could return to the team sometime within the next two weeks, but it’s clear that the team would prefer to play it extra safe with their ace. Even assuming that he feels ready to reclaim his spot on the Astros’ pitching staff, he still needs to complete a few key activities before competing in another game — like throwing off a mound, for example. In the meantime, Lance McCullers Jr. will continue to head Houston’s rotation as they try to build on their 12.5-game lead in the AL West.

 

Hinch’s full comments are below:

The Mets are promoting Tim Tebow to Single-A St. Lucie

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Mets GM Sandy Alderson told the media on Sunday that the organization is promoting outfielder Tim Tebow from Single-A Columbia to advanced Single-A St. Lucie, MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo reports.

Tebow, 29, wasn’t hitting particularly well to merit the promotion. Across 241 plate appearances with Columbia, he hit .222/.311/.340 with three home runs and 22 RBI. He had just seven extra-base hits (all doubles) in his most recent 20 games. Alderson, however, defended the decision by citing Tebow’s exit velocity and other metrics.

I think we can all agree that the real reason is that promoting Tebow creates another opportunity for the Mets to sell merchandise with his name on it.

One has to feel for the outfielder Tebow will displace. St. Lucie’s regular outfielders have comparable stats to Tebow’s, so they aren’t exactly being replaced on merit. That outfielder will see less playing time, hurting his future prospects. Adding Tebow to St. Lucie’s roster will push someone off of the roster, which will also harm that player’s future prospects. And, remember, these players don’t make much money to begin with.