To the jury roomFor the last three weeks, both sides in the case of The Knoxville News-Sentinel v. The Knox County Commission have presented their arguments with enough persuasion that it is hard to say that this case is as cut-and-dry as some people seem to think. Among the people who think the jury will not take very long to reach a verdict is Don Bosch, who shared with me off-camera during the taping of Inside Tennessee that he did not believe the jury would be out longer than a couple of hours, all told.
I'm not quite as certain that the jury will have such an easy time if they do their job (and there is no reason to believe that they will not), because there is enough of the Plaintiff's case that rests on speculative evidence to make the process at least taxing, and no honest juror can determine guilt on speculation alone.
Throughout the trial, I have presented my honest view that regardless of whether you believe that Commissioners broke the Sunshine Law on January 31-and I believe based on the evidence that they likely did-that the News-Sentinel, and more specifically its editor Jack McElroy, have an agenda of their own. Throughout this trial, we've heard about the factions on the Knox County Commission. I have long believed that McElroy and the News-Sentinel editorial board side with Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale and his supporters, and that the lawsuit has more to do with the paper's access to the Commission, than it does the access of ordinary citizens (I do not think this is necessarily the case for the nine citizens also part of the suit). Even so, the paper has done what it believes is its public and civic duty in acting as an advocate for public access to the affairs of state.
Later this morning, after Chancellor Daryl Fansler instructs them, the case that has so animated the press and local public opinion here will find its way to the jury.
One thing that I absolutely agree with News-Sentinel editor Jack McElroy about is the jury's solemn responsibility:
At times, the testimony has been painfully tedious. Not only did the jurors have to watch videos of two full County Commission meetings, they had to sit staring at nothing happening during the long recesses in the Jan. 31 meeting.
They listened to dozens of journalists and politicians (can it get any worse than that?), and they learned more about the sausage-making aspect of politics than most citizens ever want to know.
Starting Monday afternoon, or thereabouts, they'll begin trying to make sense of the details, answering questions about a complex and esoteric law and achieving what's almost impossible in human affairs - agreement among 12 individuals.
This is precisely why the jury's job will not be easy, and it is also why we can thank God that we have trial by jury in America.
Labels: Local politics