The day began like any Washington, D.C. commuter's day: on the metro. Then I got to the courthouse and suddenly it was no longer an ordinary day.
I watched opening statements from a seat between my incredible co-blogger Christy Hardin Smith and the vivacious (who knew?) Nina Totenberg of NPR. Her eyes always dance happily, even in repose. I lent her a pen; we whispered furtive courtroom quips. I was charmed.
Marcy Wheeler, the eponymous emptywheel who has been liveblogging the trial for the last week, is amazing. She types so fast! If you want to get up to speed on this case, you really need to buy her book. The day of opening statements, Christy and I were in the courtroom while Marcy, er, womaned the keyboard from the media room.
A trial is a complex thing. There's all the evidence, rules of evidence, legal stuff and rules for jury deliberations, but anyone who has interviewed jurors after a trial (and I have) knows that it's often the unpredictable elements, the very human elements, jurors hang on to and remember. As I watched opening statements this week from inside the courtroom, preoccupied as I was with taking notes of the competing arguments, I was also most attentive to the ebb and flow of human energy, the little looks and asides, the personalities and the dynamics of people and perceptions, as best I could read them, drawing on my experience and my doctorate in psych. I want to share a little of what it was like to be in the courtroom, through my perceptions of how the players came across.
Here's the thing: in my view, the three dominant personalities in the room -- Pat Fitzgerald, Reggie Walton and Ted Wells -- are all engaged in a complex game of "Who's your daddy?" -- both among themselves and, perhaps most especially, for the jury and the media. Think of it as an alpha male "American Idol" for the jury and the public, where the ultimate prize is the jurors' trust and confidence, with public perception a very close second.
Walton's courtroom personality is actually pretty likable. He's very thoughtful when he speaks to jurors, and he talks to them, not at them. His style is very empowering to a jury, allowing jurors to do some things not all judges do. He gives them paper and pens, so they can take notes. He describes their role to them as "judges" of fact. He tells the 16 jurors and alternates that there are 17 judges in the room: him, as the judge of the law and the process, and the jurors. That's some nice framing. He lets them know that if they need a break, they should just signal, and he'll stop the proceedings. Each member of the jury has access to an emergency brake.
When Walton speaks, he speaks in what generally comes across as a down to earth style. He doesn't shout or preen, and he even shows flashes of humor. It's his court- room, to be sure, but he does not seem to try to flaunt or prove it to anybody. True, he can drag on a bit with some of his favorite stories, like the one about the importance of serving on a jury, illustrated by his experiences in Russia when he did some work abroad to help people understand what a functioning judicial system is all about. But for all that, he's not a windbag. Walton seems OK, though I have no idea how he is in terms of fairness in the law. From what I can tell, he seems to be playing it pretty straight.