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Thursday, June 17, 2010 01:58 am

Watching the Blago trial from the jury box


Most jurors know little about Rod Blagojevich, except for what they’ve seen on TV entertainment shows.

Keep in mind while watching coverage of the Rod Blagojevich trial that reporters in the courtroom have a far keener understanding of what is going on than do the jurors. Their perceptions are not necessarily the same as the jurors’ views. So, their coverage may not match up to how the case will turn out.

For most of the jurors, this is their first time in a real courtroom. Unlike most of the reporters at the trial, this experience is all quite new to all but two of them, who have served on juries before. And, unlike most of the reporters, they have limited knowledge of what the trial is all about and the context of the charges.

Most of the jurors know little of Rod Blagojevich and his administration except for their skimming of the local news and maybe seeing him a time or two on TV entertainment programs. One juror admitted that she checks the news “only for the weather.”

If you’re reading this column, then you most likely have more interest in politics than average citizens. So, for people like us, some of those jurors may seem ignorant and even clueless. But people like us aren’t “normal” citizens. We pay attention to politics closely because it’s in our blood.

Most people, like many of those jurors, live lives almost totally divorced from day to day political machinations.

I’ve often tried to explain this political disconnect with my “Hockey Theory.” And it most probably applies to the Blagojevich trial as well.

I never played hockey as a kid. I can barely ice-skate. I have a vague memory of us owning a couple of hockey sticks back in the day, but my brothers and I probably just used them to terrorize each other.

I’ve seen seen two hockey games in person. One of my earliest memories of television is of a Blackhawks game, but other than that I’ve only watched parts of a few games on TV. I’ve never watched a complete game.

I almost never read about hockey in the papers and don’t know the players, although I am familiar with some historical names.

I’m well aware that the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, and I know they have some great players, but I’m almost ashamed to say that I didn’t watch more than a few minutes of any of the playoff games and couldn’t tell you who the Blackhawks’ big names are if you put a gun to my head.

Two million people showed up to celebrate the Blackhawks win in Chicago last Friday, but I wasn’t one of them and I am more amazed by the turnout than what was said and who was there.

Plain and simple, I’m just not a hockey fan. I suppose I have too many other things to occupy my time.

That’s pretty much the way most people (half of whom don’t even vote) view politics in this country. And it’s probably somewhere around the same level of knowledge that many, if not most, of Blagojevich’s jurors have about his alleged crimes and misgovernance.

So, while many of us can list many of the reasons why Rod Blagojevich is guilty as sin (just as Blackhawks fans can tell you in detail how their team won the big trophy), many of his jurors are pretty much in the dark at the moment.

And it’s not just ignorance that makes them different.  If they didn’t know that Blagojevich friend Chris Kelly committed suicide rather than testify against his buddy, they won’t learn it at the trial, either.  The same sort of thing goes for convicted felon Stu Levine.  There will be no mention of Levine’s excessive drug use and heavy partying ways at trial. 

Combine all that with the decree that jurors must always keep an open mind, and the result is they will almost undoubtedly see things differently than will the reporters who are covering the trial and the people who are following that coverage.

Jurors often see things in a way that “insiders” don’t, and they make judgments on things that get past some of the rest of us. George Ryan’s corruption trial produced countless banner headlines, but some of Ryan’s jurors said there was no single “smoking gun” that did Ryan in. Rather it was the overwhelming amount of evidence produced by the prosecution that sealed the former governor’s fate.  

Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.

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