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Friday, January 30, 2009
Neyer linked my bit about the feds raiding Greg Anderson's mother-in-law's house over in his Friday Filberts today, and he asks a good question:
But on the other hand -- and I should probably defer to Craig on these things, because he's got a law degree and I don't -- perhaps a high-profile prosecution of a public figure for lying to a grand jury is in the public's interest. Even if it can't be quantified in any meaningful way.
There are three primary reasons to prosecute someone for a crime: (1) to punish someone for violating a law; (2) to incapacitate that person via incarceration or execution from committing further crimes; or (3) to deter others from violating the same law. Actually, there shouldn't be an "or" in there, because these aren't mutually-exclusive categories. Indeed, most criminal prosecutions aim to do all three of these things to greater or lesser degrees, though certainly not always.
Punishment is certainly applicable in the case of Barry Bonds. We want to punish those who lie to grand juries because their actions have interfered with the orderly administration of justice. That said, this is not a capital crime we're talking about here. Perjury is not an epidemic in this country and it doesn't pose a serious risk to public safety or anything. Bonds may do some time if he's convicted, but he won't be spending his dotage in federal prison for it, nor should we expect him to.
Incapacitation isn't really relevant here. Sure, Bonds won't be out on the streets lying to grand juries if he goes to prison, but unless Bonds has a lot more going on in his life than we all know, the risk that he would have anyway is small.
Rob has hit on reason number three: deterrence. We can't have an effective criminal justice system if people lie to grand juries, so it makes perfect sense to prosecute some people for perjury -- even if we don't go after everyone -- so that others who may have to testify know that it is serious business. This was the primary purpose behind the Martha Stewart prosecution, and, depending on how much animus you feel Jeff Novitsky has for Barry Bonds, it is the primary purpose for this case too. And no it is not illegitimate on its face to single out high profile people for the simple reason that they provide the basis for stronger deterrents given that their prosecutions will be widely reported. But again, this snakes back into punishment, and we must accept that there is some limit to the lengths we'd go to deter this particular crime. Yes, executing someone for perjury would certainly send a message -- indeed, it would probably eliminate the problem in its entirety! -- but that's not how Anglo-American jurisprudence rolls.
So if we add that together, we have a mild to moderate punishment incentive, a zero incapacitation incentive, and I'd say a moderate deterrence incentive at work. It follows then, that the prosecutorial effort expended to achieve those goals should be commensurate with the value achieving those goals brings to society.
I submit that the effort expended to get Bonds has far exceeded the public good even a successful prosecution will bring. Tens of millions of dollars have been spent on this case. Potential witnesses -- not co-defendants, mind you, but mere witnesses -- have done time in jail and are having the IRS's nose rammed up their posterior. Overkill left the station months ago. We're now into megakill.
So no, I'm not theoretically opposed to prosecuting Barry Bonds for lying to a grand jury. I am, however, opposed to the force which has been brought to bear to accomplish it.
Forget Joe Torre. His tell-all isn't even the most interesting one to come to light this week:
On the greatest day of his life, Matt McCarthy took a call from a Major League baseball scout named Byron, who told him he had been drafted to play baseball for the Angels.
One would think that in the nearly 40 years since Ball Four came out an iron-clad rule would have been instituted in baseball clubhouses everywhere holding that, if a player keeps a journal, he should be instantly put to death.
And, oh yeah, I'm reading that baby.
A lot of folks linked to John Updike's "Hub Fan Bids Kid Adieu" essay this week, myself included. Today HuffPo's David Margolick analyzes it. That's interesting enough and worth your click, but this passage is the best:
Nowadays, when nostalgia is big business and every sports milestone is hyped, such an event would be covered exhaustively and bathetically. And if that milestone concerned baseball, the game of choice for intellectuals slumming as regular Joes, the press box would be filled with PhDs on day passes, producing an orgy of grandiloquence.
Ain't that the truth. The Neyers, Laws, Pintos, Dierkeses, and Marchmans of the world are always good enough for the day-in-day out, but it always seems like big media feels it necessary to call in some non-baseball scholar or intellectual to wax pretentious whenever something really big happens.
I guess that's harmless enough, but I can't help but wonder how much the world of science, arts, and letters would appreciate it if all of the baseball writers got together and published a book on Shakespeare or Keynesian economics or something.
There has been a new piece (or several new pieces) of information leaked about the Bonds prosecution every day this week. We've had the raids on the Anderson in-laws, the steroid tests, and now the latest: Bobby Estalella and the Giambi brothers are going to testify.
All of this has come from "a person briefed on the government’s evidence," who "did not want to jeopardize his access to sensitive information."
In other words, someone in the U.S. Attorney's office is previewing the government's case to reporters so as to create the impression of overwhelming evidence in the minds of the jury pool. A big reason for this is, in my view anyway, a good amount of this evidence will be excluded from trial after Bonds' people file motions in limine (for the uninitiated, motions in limine are requests that the court exclude certain evidence from trial due to their irrelevance, inflammatory nature, or other reasons). The idea: even if the jurors don't hear about a certain bit of evidence at trial because it was excluded, they may remember reading about it before they were selected and will carry that into the courtroom with them. Yes, attorneys try to screen for this, but it's more of an art than a science. Someone -- probably many someones -- in that jury will have followed this case at least casually.
The big danger for prosecutors: I have never met a judge who enjoyed having a case tried in the media before it reaches his or her courtroom. They all saw the kind of laughingstock Lance Ito became post-O.J., and they almost always smack whichever side they believe to be sharing too much with reporters. If I were Bonds' attorneys I'd be raising hell to the judge right now. It probably wouldn't stop the leaks, but it could very well lay the groundwork for some favorable rulings later.
DanUpBaby from Viva El Birdos is in the best shape of his life, has been working on his timing, and is trying something new.
I don't know about you, but if I was building a new home I wouldn't put it on a lot next to a garbage incinerator. But even if I did, I wouldn't then expect the people who ran the garbage incinerator -- which was built over 20 years before I got there -- to have to pay for smell remediation. Then again, I'm not the Minnesota Twins:
When the new Twins ballpark was sited next to Hennepin County's garbage burner in downtown Minneapolis, county officials assured state legislators that there wouldn't be any odor problem despite the proximity to a building that takes in 1,000 tons of garbage a day. Now the county is considering spending an estimated $2.3 million to remodel the building and grounds, about $500,000 of that to deal with odor control.
You often hear about this kind of thing with public ballparks. No, not trash specifically, but the situation in which elected officials express their displeasure at finding out about hidden expenses or problems years after the funds were approved for the stadium. You were told that a garbage incinerator a mere 100 feet from a fan promenade wouldn't present an odor problem? And you believed it? Really?
I'd suggest that a little more scrutiny on the front end would have identified this as a potential problem and a little more diligence in the planning stages would have found a cheaper solution to it. Of course, if such scrutiny and diligence were exercised, it's very likely that the whole idea of giving a billionaire hundreds of millions in public funds for a personal playground and cash machine would have been tabled in the first place.
It seems that the ESPN baseball writers were given a directive to do a column tying in to the Super Bowl this week. Neyer has one up and, as usual, it's very good. We all came to the man's work because there was a time when he was the only mainstream writer doing good analysis, but Rob is at his absolute best when he goes historical on us.
Jayson Stark has one up too, but it's not so good. Not because it's poorly executed -- I think Stark is an interesting writer and always does a good job, this entry included -- but because the premise, however tongue-in-cheek it may be, is the stuff of nightmares:
So as another Super Bowl looms on our digestive system's horizon, we thought this was the perfect occasion to ask a critical question:
Broadly speaking, the ideas are to make the World Series a "cultural event" as opposed to a mere sporting event, turn Game 1 into a circus, insert the day's hottest music stars and MTV into the mix, have MLB adopt the NFL's micromanaging style, and develop some interactivity tools for the viewers at home so they don't have to just sit passively and watch baseball.
Stark's a purist, so I'm guessing he actually hates most of the ideas on this list. My fear, though, is that someone at MLB is reading, doesn't get the joke and some of this stuff winds up on a meeting agenda at some point in the near future.
That knee-jerk assumption everyone had -- including me -- that Andruw Jones would sign a minor league deal with the Braves turns out to have been a faulty one:
The Braves have had a couple of weeks to discuss Andruw Jones, and in the process, it doesn't appear that they've become any more interested in bringing the veteran outfielder back to their organization.
Well if that's truly the case -- and when Boras is involved, you really never know -- we've probably seen the last of Andruw Jones, because no sane team is going to guarantee him anything. Well, at least no team should guarantee him anything. If your team does, feel free to immediately abandon them, because they're a lost cause.
And yes, I include myself in that sentiment as well. If the Braves give Jones a guaranteed deal, I'm out.
Baseball has its share of reactionary anti-stathead writers, but we certainly don't have the market cornered. This from an article in The Times entitled "The 50 worst things about modern football":
It's one thing to say established stat X is better than new stat Y, but this guy is promoting utter ignorance. Or, as reader and link-supplier Laurence Davison put it: "If these people got a crack at baseball you wouldn’t even be allowed batting average and RBIs."
I know next to nothing about big time soccer, but I'd say at least 35 of the things on this list have some sort of baseball analog. But you know what? The anti-stat entry isn't even my favorite one one. This is:
This from a multi-page column bitching about half a hundred things the author doesn't care for. If the list of things this guy despises had gone to 51, the last thing listed would be "self-awareness."
I hesitate to overshare, but some of you seem to have some genuine concern for me, so I'll give you the update: no, I am no longer looking for a legal job. This is not because I found a new one yet, but because me and the other gals in the neighborhood decided that it was just too much fun playing poker for coupons and meeting at someone else's house each afternoon for Oprah. Wait, what? Are you . . .? Don't you look at me that way. I SLAVE around this house all day and have dinner ready when you get home, so don't you judge me just because I've had a glass of white zin before five . . . stop. We'll continue this discussion later. My stories are starting:
First we'll use Meche,
then we'll use Greinke,
Then an off day
and the next two are stinky.
Back will come Meche,
followed by Greinke,
by two days that are stinky.
Gotta go now: the man of the house will be home soon, and while cooking fresh food for, um, her is just a drag, I bought an instant cake and can burn a frozen steak. Man, what a drag it is gettin' old.