The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in the Edwin Edwards case completely vindicated trial Judge Frank Polozola Jr.'s controversial dismissal of Juror 68 in the middle of deliberations. The appellate judges also left little hope for EWE to remain out of prison much longer.
The court got it right on both counts.
Judge Polozola came under criticism during and after the trial for an alleged bias against Edwards, and his dismissal of the one juror who appeared to be leaning EWE's way waved a big red flag, according to defense attorneys and EWE sympathizers. What the critics failed to mention was that the record of testimony and facts that led to Polozola's decision was sealed, so the public knew only that part of the story that leaked to some in the press.
In its opinion, the appeals court panel paints an entirely new picture of Juror 68. He disobeyed important instructions -- more than once -- and then lied about it. Twice.
In fact, Juror 68 became a problem long before deliberations began. He kept a piece of transcript that was distributed during the trial (in direct violation of the judge's orders) and then wrote his juror number on an evidence binder (another violation) that later was handed to EWE during his testimony. "Despite these failures to follow the court's instructions, the court took no action," the Fifth Circuit wrote.
After deliberations began, Juror 68 brought "extrinsic" evidence (a dictionary and a thesaurus) into the deliberation room and tried to introduce pedestrian definitions into the deliberation process, as opposed to the legal ones imparted to jurors by the judge. Polozola ordered jurors -- again -- not to bring outside materials into the jury room, but 68 nonetheless kept the dictionary at his work station.
Days later, Juror 68 reportedly left the jury room in tears because he was being "intimidated" by other jurors. Juror 68 himself wrote Polozola a note suggesting that perhaps he should be dismissed. "Again demonstrating restraint," the Fifth Circuit wrote, "the court denied the government's motion to dismiss Juror 68 without interviewing any of the jurors, and re-instructed the jury regarding their duty to deliberate."
A few days later, Juror 68 crossed the line for good: he brought additional materials into the jury room (a note -- from whom we do not know) and took "sheets from his notebook" out of the jury room. Juror 68 also referred to the extrinsic note during deliberations. These additional violations were brought to Polozola's attention by the jury foreman and later verified by all other jurors.
When questioned by Polozola about these allegations, Juror 68 initially denied them. Later, over the government's objections, Polozola gave 68 another chance to explain things, and he partially recanted -- and additionally admitted that he still had the extrinsic note in his wallet, contrary to Polozola's repeated instructions.
Polozola finally dismissed Juror 68 after concluding that he had failed to follow the court's instructions and that, in the Fifth Circuit's words, "Juror 68 was lacking in candor."
Other columnists have opined that the Fifth Circuit was "deferential" to Polozola. I'll be deferential to them and say that I respectfully disagree. Saying that Juror 68 "was lacking in candor" is deferential. The guy lied. By contrast, the appellate judges' review of the record shows that Polozola bent over backwards not to bounce 68 sooner.
Simply put, Juror 68 had it coming.
So did Edwards.
The former governor is getting 10 years for his illegal acts, yet he holds himself out as some sort of martyr. Maybe in jail things will come into focus for him. Let me offer a start:
Louisiana has already endured more than 25 years of corruption and lost opportunities because of "The Louisiana Way" as practiced by EWE, his cronies and countless admirers in public life. It may take us another 25 years to throw off the shackles of Edwards' legacy of arrogance and corruption -- if we ever wake up and start demanding more of our politicians.
EWE's 10 years seem light by comparison.