Complexity or Culture?

In reading this story about Blagojevich getting a hung jury on all but one charge, this bit leapt out at me:

But one juror, a woman whom other jurors declined to identify, saying they wanted to respect her privacy, never budged in her opposition to convicting on the counts. She was unmoved by recorded calls in which Mr. Blagojevich and his aides spoke of possible jobs, donations, even a White House cabinet appointment he might get after making his Senate choice.
Mr. Wlodek described her stance as “very noble,” adding: “She did not see it as a violation of any laws. It was politics. It was more of conversations of what-ifs.”[emp added]

This makes me wonder if Blagojevich got off owing to the political culture of Illinois which assumes that a high level of corruption is simply how politics and government get done. With such a culture, it might seem unjust for a juror to convict Blagojevich for actions which are expected of all politicians. I mean, who expects that elected officials will have long conversations about “what-ifs” that at least sound a lot like discussions about corruption?

The arcane complexity of the legal charges is definitely a problem. It’s very much like the trouble that lay juries have in evaluating cases concerning complex and technical financial, technological or scientific evidence. We expect people to get an advanced specialized education and then get years of experience before making major decisions in technical fields, and yet we expect lay juries to choose between two dueling experts based on just a few days of exposure to the issues at hand.

However, corruption would seem to be fairly straightforward in most cases and wouldn’t require a lot of legal hair-splitting. Was the complexity of this case really the challenge here, or was it really a matter of a culture so broadly tolerant of corruption that only the most extreme and explicit acts of corruptions will draw legal censure? Was the complexity of the judge’s instructions itself a result of this culture?

Perhaps some readers from Illinois can pitch in with insight.

10 thoughts on “Complexity or Culture?”

  1. I think one has to be particularly dense or, at least. dependent on the ChiTown patronage system not to draw the inference that Blago was guilty. Having written that, Blago cocked it but never actually pulled the trigger. That provides sufficient excuse to conclude that he technically did not break the law. I think it says more about Fitzgerald, who has made a career of demonizing defendants and convicting them on the charge that they lied to federal agents.

  2. No, it is not the jurors that are the problem. It is the lawyers, and in this case the prosecutors. Prosecutions like this, with very complex charges, and lots of vague evidence often result in hung juries or acquittals. There is a limit to the amount of information and the number of concepts that any of us can absorb in a short time span. Prosecutors exceed those limits at their peril. Like I said, it happens, and not infrequently.

  3. I agree with Robert Schwartz. From what I have read, the jury was totally perplexed when they went into the deliberations and had to sort a lot of things out for themselves. The prosecutors should have taken their best few charges and run with those and made it as simple as possible for the jurors to understand rather than sending them into deliberations with twenty some charges worth of evidence and other things to figure out on their own.

    As far as the thrust of Shannon’s post, it is an interesting theory, and one that I think you could assign to people who live in the Chicago area more than people who, say, live in Rockford or Carbondale. I grew up in Rockford in the 70s and 80s and the culture there from what I experienced wasn’t really one as hopelessly corrupt as Chicago. I would think other communities like Carbondale or Danville (just to name a few) would be the same.

    I wonder where the jurors were from – if they were from Chicago and had experience dealing with the corruption there on a daily basis I would imagine that they would think that what Blago was doing was more a day to day normal thing than someone from, say, DeKalb, who was never exposed to that level of corruption.

  4. JB, I agree with you; Fitzgerald tried (as is his custom) to try the case in the press.

    I have family in Illinois (mid-state), and they weren’t surprised in the least by Blago’s taped conversations. I don’t believe they would have taken the stand the lone juror did, but I do wonder how they could just put up with the corruption.

  5. I’m dense. Please explain to me what Blago did that he should go to jail for. Besides doing what all other politicians do.

    When all they can get a conviction on is perjury yet they declare it legal to lie about having won the Medal of Honor, the legal system has a big problem. Even more so for me after seeing the civil and bankruptcy courts in action up close and corporate. Today’s gem was watching a vacationing family spread eagle on the freeway because some cop had no sense of proportion about switched license plates. Some preening peacock of a prosecutor will have to work very hard to ever get me to convict a person I will consider innocent when I sit in a jury box. Much harder than 15 years ago.

    Blago’s attorneys knew the state didn’t have a case (or they had a juror in their pockets) and that is why they didn’t present their defence. Now Fitzgerald has to figure out how much he is really willing to have the ever more discredited Obama administration called as hostile witnesses for the defence before he decides whether to proceed with a second prosecution, his immediate brave bluster notwithstanding. A very clever move by Blago’s braintrust.

    When the people have lost their respect for the courts and their ability to deliver justice from law, the foundations of society are exposed.

  6. That’s the way things are done in Chicago.

    It’s been the epitome of corruption since it was stolen from the Potawatomi, and it’ll be no different until they get it back.

    That is why I don’t live there any more.

    In “Obamacare” we are seeing the lethal corruption of Chicago politics writ large.

    See: for why this is so.

  7. To understanding Illinois is to understand the crossroads all of American faces.

    I’ve opined that IL is barely a representative republic anymore. Seriously.

    You could make the case that I’m being hyperbolic, but after an honest review, you’d find that I’m only slightly so. If you really look at how things work, you find that reform is nearly impossible.

    I wish I had the time to write it all and prove it you all, but I don’t. For a real flavor, you might like this post from my blog.

    When you look at the operation of parties, election/campaign finance laws, municipal debt churning, pension and payroll expansion, and the corrupt interplay between state and local government, you start to see the intricacies of the machine they’ve built.

    Honest newcomers can’t get through the primary process (in either party), and any avenue to promote good policy (Const. Conv., ballot initiative, etc.) is effectively blocked.

    Any attempt to start a groundswell of change is cauterized by the large percentage of the population that is either opposed (friends and relatives of public employees – which I call pod-people), or to defeated or jaundiced (people who gave up or moved).

    Illinois is what awaits all America, corrupt, bought off, bored, defeated, lazy, or too tired to care.

    We have about 2-4 years to change this, or we become Greece with a printing press.

  8. When I first moved to my Chicagoland area, I used to write tons of letters to the paper. My politics are very different from most in my area – very progressive – but when I would complain about a specific local issue most people would agree with me. But most have given up. “Oh, it’s always been like that, it will never change.”

    There is also lots of “shadow government” in Illinois so that people know there local village council and they know the state senator, but they are unaware of all of the county officials that reduplicate many of the agencies and yet write a lot of rules and regulations and get plenty of money.

    The other funny thing is that if you write a sharp note to the paper in the comments to the online version, local officials will berate you for being insufficiently greatful for their work. I don’t agree that things can’t be changed, but it would require a lot more people to quit bitching in coffee shops and get off their butts. I am not one of those, however. After many pointed letters (the local paper even “responded” to one of my points in an editorial) I’ve sort of given up. I work full-time, I’ve got lots on my plate. They play on this. Good eggs with houses, work, and family are so busy with the stuff of life, because they are responsible, that they can’t keep up with the professional local busybodies.

    – Madhu

  9. “I’ve sort of given up. I work full-time, I’ve got lots on my plate. They play on this. Good eggs with houses, work, and family are so busy with the stuff of life, because they are responsible, that they can’t keep up with the professional local busybodies.”

    Madhu – you have an excellent point here that tends to get overlooked a lot. Many people in Illinois are good, hard working folks who would love to do without the corruption, but just don’t have the time and energy to fight it. I also used to be more involved in politics, but then I had a kid and that time was reduced, then I had a second and it got reduced more, then my business sprouted and now I have zero time to give to the cause. All I can do is make donations to those who do have the time.

  10. “All I can do is make donations to those who do have the time.”

    That would be enough if there were more of you. Seriously folks, if you aren’t running, encouraging friends to run, or funding the right people to run, the very least you can do is make a few phone calls and hold people’s feet to the fire.

    10 calls to a state rep on any one topic makes them worried. 5 letters is worth more.

    If you, and 20 friends merely build an e-mail, call, letter network, you would be shocked at the amount of influence you would have. Throw in a name of a respectable primary challenger, and it adds even more clout.

    No, it isn’t easy, but it is possible.

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