What did I tell you about Atlanta?
The judge in the trial of former Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell said yesterday, "I think we're slipping into a hole where down is up and up is down."
On the opening day of jury selection Tuesday, several potential jurors said they think Campbell hurt the city's image. Some went so far as to say they think he's guilty.
Others said they have little use for testimony from witnesses who have made deals with the prosecution and are expected to be a key part of the government's case against Campbell. One man said he couldn't believe anything an Internal Revenue Service official said.
The man, who felt persecuted by an IRS audit, was excused by the judge at the defense's urging.
U.S. District Judge Richard Story indicated that the trial, expected to take at least six weeks, may be a long, strange journey, noting that it was the defense, not the prosecution, asking to excuse a potential juror who had strong feelings against an agency that investigated Campbell. "I think we're slipping into a hole where down is up and up is down," Story said.
This gives you some indication of why Campbell was smiling and confident as he arrived for the start of his trial on federal corruption charges. The jury pool in Atlanta, as in any major American city, is going to be full of people with the "stop snitching" mentality, who consider it a bad thing to cooperate with the law enforcement system.
Campbell arrived Tuesday morning with his wife, Sharon, and his attorneys. He had a faint smile as he greeted about a dozen supporters — several of them elderly — who remained with him for part of the day. Just before entering the courtroom, Campbell and his supporters gathered in a circle, held hands and prayed.
A seven-count indictment alleges that Campbell, now 52, managed City Hall as a criminal enterprise during his two terms, accusing him of racketeering, accepting bribes and tax evasion. Campbell has pleaded not guilty.
After the proceedings Tuesday, the Campbells waited outside the courthouse's back entrance as the former mayor's ride approached. "I believe in the jury system; I feel positive about the opportunity to clear my name," he said. "I have been waiting for this for four years."
The guys who already copped pleas in this case couldn't afford Campbell's lawyers. They didn't have his political profile. He's a black celebrity in Atlanta, and it was clear on Day One that his lawyers were trying to find an O.J. jury that would acquit, no matter how damning the evidence:
The judge questioned 28 potential jurors, 19 of whom were white, nine black. Of the 17 who were qualified to remain in the jury pool, nine were white and eight black. Story reserved rulings on two others.
Campbell's lawyers moved to strike 11 potential jurors for various reasons. All were white.
Hmmm. If you reconcile this with the earlier part of the story, it seems apparent that the anti-IRS juror -- the one who said he wouldn't believe a word an IRS agent said -- was white. So, even though the guy exhibited an overt hostility to an agency whose witnesses will provide key evidence against their client, Campbell's lawyers didn't want the white guy on the jury.
Hmmm. So, even though Campbell is a wealthy graduate of Vanderbilt and Duke Law (indeed, a former federal prosecutor) and a companion of millionaires and power brokers, now retired to a resort community in sunny Florida, it sounds like his lawyers are hoping to get an all-black jury and portray their client as another "victim of The Man." Beautiful.