Monday, November 28, 2011

Response to John Kass: Don't Hang the Juror

By now you’ve probably heard that Bill Cellini might get another trial. About two weeks ago, the Chicago Tribune reported that one of the other jurors concealed her criminal record during the jury selection process. Cellini’s lawyers have since filed for a mistrial.

In the wake of this news, the Angry Readers (i.e., regular people who leave comments) at the Chicago Tribune website have spoken: They’re angry at Judge Zagel for not ordering background checks on the jurors, at the prosecuting attorneys for not running checks themselves, and at defense attorney Dan Webb, whose mock surprise doesn't seem to be fooling anybody.

But the Angry Readers are most angry, by far, at the juror.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Big Story

As some of you have already heard or read, I spent the last month serving as a juror on the Bill Cellini trial. The case in a nutshell: Cellini was involved in a conspiracy to extort a Hollywood movie producer named Tom Rosenberg; the objective was to get Rosenberg to pay a political contribution to then-governor Rod Blagojevich. After a three-week trial and three days of deliberation, our verdict was read; we convicted Bill Cellini on two of the four counts related to the conspiracy.

The above paragraph rings hollow. I have so much to say about this experience that I'm not really sure where to start. So I guess I'll begin by answering the question that many of those close to me have asked since the trial ended: will I write about it?

There's certainly enough material to write about: from Stuart Levine giving testimony on his double-life, to the racial undertones of the Allison Davis subplot, to the all-business federal prosecuting attorneys, to the old-school defense team, to the media coverage, to the unsettling feeling of seeing the sketch artist's rendition of my own face, to the three-day deliberation. And all that without even mentioning Bill Cellini.

Jury duty itself is an experience worth writing about. They call it a "duty" for a reason. It is not something one chooses to do, but something one does because it must be done. And carrying out that duty gives one less a sense of accomplishment than a sense of sobriety. One juror described it as one of the few opportunities we will ever have to profoundly affect the life of another human being. It's a responsibility that, on one hand, feels very surreal; and on the other hand feels very, well, real.

And then there's the obvious reason to write about the trial. Bill Cellini was one of the most powerful men in Illinois politics for over thirty years. The fact that I played a minor role in a pivotal moment in the history of this state is not lost on me.

There's a lot to think about and make sense of. I don't know when I'll have something worth posting here or publishing elsewhere. But I will write about it. To put it bluntly, sometimes life drops a Big Story in your lap. If I were to ignore it, I'd have no right to call myself a writer.