By James B. Stewart
Reviewed by David Mandell
Is America facing an epidemic of perjury? James B. Stewart believes justice is undermined by witnesses who swear to tell the truth, then brazenly violate their oaths. In Tangled Webs, Stewart examines four high profile perjury cases: Martha Stewart, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Barry Bonds, and Bernard Madoff. Despite access to the best legal advice, all were convicted.
The book starts with Martha Stewart’s trial, and the author shows how her involvement was largely self inflicted. Martha Stewart’s daughter had dated Sam Waksal, founder of ImClone Systems, a drug development company. Martha Stewart then purchased about 4,000 shares, a small part of her fortune. But the FDA rejected ImClone’s primary product, and Waksal knew its stock price would plummet. He ordered his broker, Stewart’s future co-defendant, Peter Baconovic, to sell his stock before the news became public. Baconovic, in turn, informed Stewart. She sold her shares and famously remarked to her companions how nice it was to have a broker that tells you things. Once the FDA denial became public, ImClone’s value tumbled, and regulators noticed that Waksal and Stewart had sold their shares before the FDA announcement and began investigating.
The author shows how Martha Stewart was her own worst enemy. She and Bacanovic insisted that their knowledge had no bearing on her sale. Their claim that Stewart had a stop loss order was easily exposed as false, and, as the author demonstrates, it was largely unnecessary. Unlike Waksal, Ms. Stewart was not clearly an insider and was charged with perjury rather than insider trading. The author asks why someone would risk her freedom when the option of telling the truth or exercising fifth amendment rights would have so better served her. The answer seems to be that deceit has become so routine that it is a normal response.
Next, James Stewart deals with the perjury trial of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, an assistant to former Vice President Dick Cheney. During the preparation for the war to remove Saddam Hussein from power, the CIA sent a retired diplomat, Joe Wilson, to Niger to investigate whether Iraq was seeking nuclear material. Wilson’s conclusion — that there was no evidence of it — went largely unnoticed until he went public and encountered columnist Robert Novak. Novak reported that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, a CIA agent, had arranged for her husband to get his assignment. Since revealing the identity of a covert agent is a crime, an investigation began. The mystery of Novak’s sources was quickly solved when a state department official, Richard Armitage, admitted giving him the information. Despite the rapid resolution, a special prosecutor was appointed, and Libby was interviewed. He claimed that he learned of Plame’s CIA position from Tim Russert, host of Meet the Press. Russert denied it, and Libby was prosecuted for lying to federal agents and the grand jury.
James Stewart believes that Libby’s version was implausible, and his conviction justified. He points out the irony that Libby ended up a convicted criminal while Armitage, the actual source, walked away unscathed.
Stewart moves on to the prosecution of baseball slugger Barry Bonds, charged with falsely denying he knowingly used steroids. When called before a grand jury, he denied intentionally using steroids. Like Stewart and Libby, he did not need to deceive. Violating baseball’s rules is not a crime, and it isn’t even clear that he violated the lax rules of the steroid era. Unfortunately, Stewart’s accounting of Bonds’ baseball career is marred by mistakes obvious to any fan. He describes Bonds as wearing number 24 in honor of his father, but Bonds wore number 25. He also writes that Bonds played college baseball for the Arizona State Sun Rays when the correct name is the Sun Devils.
Stewart’s discussion of financial swindler Bernard Madoff is the book’s most important. Unlike the others, Madoff had reason to lie. The truth would send him to prison for many years. Stewart reports how a forensic accountant figured out Madoff’s scam and warned the Securities and Exchange Commission. He shows how securities investigators were more interested in closing the case than in digging into Madoff’s scheme. Madoff lied repeatedly and escaped exposure for years. Investors lost their life savings, while Madoff’s lies went unchallenged.
One issue I have with Tangled Webs is that all the examples are defendants. It would have made an interesting final chapter had Stewart addressed what happens when those entrusted with enforcing the law are not faithful to their obligations. He could have examined the trial of the late Sen. Ted Stevens, whose conviction was ultimately dismissed when it was learned that federal prosecutors did not disclose that a crucial witness had made statements directly contradicting his testimony.
Stewart presents a compelling case that perjury will ultimately destroy the integrity of the judicial process and with it, the public’s confidence in the fairness of our courts.
Tangled Webs (hardcover, 496-pp.) is available from Amazon.com for $19.13.
David Mandell is a Bar member in Norwich, Connecticut.
Imperfect Justice: Prosecuting Casey Anthony
By Jeff Ashton with Lisa Pulitzer
Reviewed by Mark Lewis
Disclosure: 1) I am a prosecutor; 2) I know and have great regard for Jeff Ashton; 3) I think the jury got it wrong.
Although not necessarily written for this purpose, Jeff Ashton, in his book about the Casey Anthony trial, appears to try to understand how the jury, given the formidable circumstantial evidence and the overwhelming number of incidents of the defendant’s lies, could have reached a “not guilty” verdict in such a short amount of time.
The majority of the book concentrates on the investigation leading up to the filing of charges and the ultimate trial. Ashton, who came onto the prosecution team due to his expertise in scientific evidence, presents a compelling case for conviction, even in light of the medical examiner’s inability to specify a cause of death. As prosecutors often state in closing arguments, while people may not always be telling the truth, the circumstantial evidence does not lie.
On the subject of lying, Ashton documents the incredible number of times during the investigation that Casey was caught telling one false tale after another. He depicts a person who would unashamedly lie until backed into a corner, which is what literally happened when she led investigators through Universal Studios to point out her office, finally admitting, while standing at the end of a hallway, that she did not work there.
In the end, Ashton admits to some faults, but is firm in his belief that the prosecution team did the best it could with what it had. He takes a few jabs at the jury, noting how they seemed more interested in deciding what DVDs to watch in the evenings than in viewing the evidence. But he ultimately stands up for the jury system, even if it is “imperfect” at times.
Imperfect Justice is a good short recap, with some new insights, of a case that captivated the country for such a long time. For prosecutors, it is a frustrating reminder that proving a circumstantial case beyond and to the exclusion of a reasonable doubt is rarely easy. Ashton states he believes that Jose Baez won in spite of himself. I am not so sure.
Imperfect Justice is available from William Morrow (324-pp.) for $26.99.
Mark Lewis is a Bar member with the State Attorney’s Office in Tampa.
All the Targets
By Noah Bond
After the west coast of the United States suffers a nuclear attack, a new president is elected, and his secret mission to resolve the root problem of terrorism is thwarted by mistake.
Top U.S. officials become hostages, a gang from New Jersey attempts to remove the North Korean leader, and an attempted airline hijacking over France leads to arson and death in Sweden. The CIA ends up fighting itself, and the White House struggles to keep up.
The fourth novel written by Florida Bar member and Ft. Lauderdale attorney Jon Agee — under his pseudonym, Noah Bond — All the Targets (hardcover, 355-pp.) is international intrigue with a twist. It is available for $14.96 from Amazon.com and from Barnes and Noble.
The Last Will and Testament of Lemuel Higgins
By Patrick James O’Connor
It is 1977, and in rural upstate New York, Lemuel Higgins has the world on a string: a promising career with the New York Yankees and a beautiful young wife, Sarah, with whom he’s creating a new home and family. But despite two successful big-league starts and a “Lem Higgins Day” parade in his hometown of East Angler, Lem’s world is shattered when the death of his estranged father sends him into a downward spiral of booze and brawling.
Five years later, Lemuel Higgins is a broken man. Abandoned by Sarah and their young son, Lem is wasting away from a new disease called AIDS. But his voice rings through his last will and testament, penned to make amends to the loving family he pushed away, as well as to describe his late attempts at redemption.
The Last Will and Testament of Lemuel Higgins revisits glimmers of true happiness mauled by self-destructive impulses, while setting the stage for one last terrific attempt at atonement. Lem’s narration is a language of gentle seduction as he invites readers to examine all of the aspects of his life — the good, the bad, and the ugly moments — in the hope of gaining understanding and, eventually, forgiveness.
The debut novel of Miami attorney and Florida Bar member Patrick James O’Connor, The Last Will and Testament of Lemuel Higgins is filled with descriptive memories and suspenseful encounters. The novel is available from Blackbriar Press in paperback for $12.99 and in e-book format for $5.99. It may be purchased from major booksellers online. For more information, visit www.patrickjamesoconnor.com.
By Rick Martin
Author and patent attorney Rick Martin graduated from Nova Law School in 1985. Since then, he has counseled over 3,000 startups and written over 600 patents, ranging from decorative house keys to anti-ballistic missile lasers. In No Money, Martin seeks to answer why his 600 patents have enriched the lives of only a few Americans while providing hundreds of jobs in China.
One common cause for America’s economic downfall Martin discusses seems to be a government’s — Republican and Democrat alike — failure to provide balance of trade treaties since the arrival of the first Toyota.
As Andrew Jackson warned in 1837:
“The mischief springs from the power which the monied interest derives from a paper currency which they are able to control…and unless you become more watchful in your states and check this spirit of monopoly and thirst for exclusive privileges you will in the end find that the most important powers of government have been given or bartered away. . . .”
No Money is a cartoon-illustrated read designed for law school, college, and high school history courses. The 124-page e-book is available for $3.99 from Trafford Publishing, Kindle, and Nook. A hard copy of No Money is available for $22 from www.patentcolorado.com.