Wed, Feb

The Carroll Verdict, Lessons from Huizar, and Football Fun: A Glimpse into Los Angeles


GELFAND’S WORLD - In pondering the latest jury verdict for $83,300,000 against Donald Trump, I am reminded of the words sung by the men's chorus in Philip Glass's opera Satyagraha: 

Hahahaha hahahaha hahahaha hahahaha 

Glass meant something a little different, but the rest of us -- those who have been waiting for some justice to be rendered -- have now seen a beginning. And in a day or two, we are also likely to see a substantial verdict against Trump and several of his children in the civil fraud case, which may cost the Trumps another $300 million or so. 

In the final days of the E. Jean Carroll slander trial (specifically, the second such slander trial), we saw Trump putting on performances that caused the judge to admonish him, particularly when he was commenting loudly to his attorney regarding the testimony from the other side. In his own testimony, Trump was again admonished and the judge told the jury to disregard much of it. And then, during the plaintiff's attorney's summation, Trump pointedly walked out of the courtroom. This inspired the judge -- when Trump returned -- to have the courtroom doors locked so that order would be maintained. 

We can summarize the attitude of the presumptive nominee as contempt -- contempt for the legal system and for every human being who opposes him either legally or politically. Any sane and rational defendant in this kind of case understands that looking like a jerk is the swiftest way to turn the jury against you and to generate a higher verdict. 

The verdict of $83.3 million, brought back in 3 hours, validates the above analysis and remarks. There are lessons to be learned, some political and the others legal. 

One lesson is that judges continue to maintain their right to be monarchs in their own domains. Note that this is not always a good thing, considering the rudeness and abusiveness that some judges have been known for, but it seems to be a necessary element that judges are empowered to maintain order and to determine how trials are run. Neither defendants nor plaintiffs have the authority to violate the rules. 

Another lesson is that New York juries have been able to resist Trump's quasi-legal arguments and to reject obvious lies and distortions. 

A third lesson is that there is a limit to what Trump can accomplish by threatening to sue people. E. Jean Carroll is not the only woman to accuse Trump of being sexually abusive, and the rest of them have won a get-out-of-jail-free card by means of the Carroll verdicts. Put it this way: There is a limit to how much bullying you can get away with when it gets to court. 

One other lesson which is more of a conjecture: In coming up with the $65 million punitive damage verdict, this jury was providing for any future abuse of Carroll by Trump. It's as though they understood that Trump will continue to be a bully, so they amortized that expected conduct in their verdict. 

One final lesson for yours truly: In a previous column written after the first verdict for $5 million, I predicted that the second slander trial would double Carroll's winnings to $10 million. You can read it here. As we might say in science and engineering, that estimate was within an order of magnitude. In response to the new reality, we can (at least with tongue in cheek) now imagine the E. Jean Carroll family of golf courses and country clubs. How many Trump National Golf Courses will it take to satisfy the $83 million valuation? Maybe she can get the one in Scotland too. 

Jose Huizar: Another one bites the dust 

Former City Councilman Jose Huizar just got sentenced to 13 years in prison, presumably as part of a plea deal. The charges read off on the news included bribery and extortion -- you know the drill. A more complete summary of the plea can be found here. There are a couple of things I continue to find interesting about the collective L.A. City Council scandals: 

The first is that the rest of the councilmembers were downstairs playing the piano while the corruption was going on. Can we believe this? How could any single solitary one of them not know? Gimme-a-break. 

The other is that our vaunted neighborhood council system continues to look the other way. Last year, I asked the organizing committee for the Neighborhood Council Congress to create a reform thread so that we could do two or three breakout sessions on government corruption, problems in the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, and what we might consider doing about such problems. The organizers chose to concentrate on teaching new neighborhood council members how to fill out forms, how not be disruptive in meetings, and how to kiss the collective ass of the elected officials. 

At the congress, I didn't hear a word about the Planning Land Use Management committee (PLUM for short) out of which came so many crimes. We didn't get to talk about the attempt by DONE to divert $4000 of neighborhood council money into a nonprofit associated with the Sheriff's Department. Come to think of it, we didn't get to talk about the continuing problem whereby the City Attorney's office represents city departments against neighborhood councils, even though the councils are also part of L.A. city government. 

CityWatch coverage of The NFL Playoffs, brought to you by the Department of Sanitation 

The National Football League completed its pre-Super-Bowl playoffs over the weekend. The games were actually pretty good, involving a quarterback duel in the AFC between Kansas City and Baltimore, and featuring a comeback for the ages in the San Francisco vs Detroit game. Detroit twice went for it on 4th down (and with a lead!), each time giving up the ball to San Francisco with excellent field position, and each time San Francisco took advantage. 

What is not so much jarring as just plain irritating is the continuing process by television to generate advertising revenue by naming each little report for a corporate sponsor. You can't seem to have run of the mill reporting on quarterback stats without inserting the name of some big company. We're not that far away from, "We will now take a bathroom break brought to you by State Farm, followed by thorough hand washing brought to you by Fluticasone Nasal Spray." 

Hey, we understand that it's commercialized. That's why they call it Pro football. But at a certain point it becomes more parody than presentation. 

Still, pro football continues to have the merit that it is shown on broadcast television. Compare that to the recent college football playoffs, which disappeared into cable sports networks and stayed there. 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected].)