Columns » Clancy DuBos

Trials and Tribulations

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The final outcome of Judge Alan Green's trial was somewhat mixed, and that's bad news for Green. In the federal criminal justice system, anything short of a complete acquittal is a disaster.

Green, a state district judge in Jefferson Parish, was convicted of only one of the seven counts against him, but one is all it takes to ruin a career and a life. Moreover, he was not acquitted on any of the remaining counts. Jurors reported themselves hopelessly deadlocked on those charges, which means the government can re-try Green for those alleged crimes.

Worse yet, the federal sentencing guidelines provide enhanced penalties for public officials who break the law in the course of performing their public duties.

Green can take small consolation in the fact that, in the wake of recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings, the sentencing guidelines no longer tie federal judges' hands as much as they once did. Most judges still follow the guidelines pretty closely -- and presiding U.S. District Judge Lance Africk, a former state and federal prosecutor, is not likely to cut Green any slack. Green is not just a public official; he is a judge. And some people, particularly other judges, still hold that branch of government to a higher standard.

Barring a reversal on appeal, Green is going to jail. Probably for years, not months.

It's also small consolation to him that jurors did not convict him on the other six counts, including The Big One -- the racketeering and conspiracy charge. In fact, considering the composition of the jury, prosecutors probably consider it a victory that jurors deadlocked on the remaining charges. The 12-member jury had seven African Americans, which is rare in the local branch of federal court. African Americans make up roughly one-third of the population in the Eastern District of Louisiana, and many expected Green's jury to include no more than four blacks. If the government decides to try him again, chances are he won't get a jury that looks like the one he just had. Prosecutors know that, and so do Green's lawyers. That gives the government considerable leverage in any future discussions with Green.

Chances are we'll never know how jurors arrived at their verdict, because Africk properly admonished them not to talk to reporters afterward. Their decision sure looks like a compromise, though. To me, the most interesting thing about the verdict is the fact that Green was convicted of mail fraud for attempting to return bribe money that he was accused of taking from Bail Bonds Unlimited -- but jurors did not convict him of taking the bribes in the first place. True, jurors did not exonerate Green of bribery; they merely deadlocked on that question. Still, it poses an interesting issue on appeal: how can one be convicted of returning a bribe if one has not been convicted of taking it?

In some respects, Green should thank his lucky stars. He had great lawyers who made the most of a very bad situation. The government put together a strong case against him, even though prosecutors gambled by not calling the witnesses who supposedly paid Green the largest bribes. Then again, they did present videotape of him taking the money.

That reduced Green to claiming the money -- thousands in cash -- was actually a campaign contribution. Trouble is, judges are barred under Louisiana law from personally soliciting or accepting any campaign contributions, and certainly not cash. He also failed to report the "contributions" on his state campaign finance reports. When your principal defense is, in effect, "I broke a lot of rules and I lied a lot, but I didn't break these rules or lie about these things," you'd better have good lawyers -- because you aren't likely to win jurors' sympathy on your own.

Of the 14 defendants charged thus far in the government's investigation of the Jefferson Parish courthouse, Green is the only one who chose to go to trial. All the others pleaded guilty to reduced charges and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. Now Green's options are limited. He has endured one trial, and he may yet face another.

His tribulations are just beginning.

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