By: Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm
On the day the jury came to a verdict, they first sent a couple of questions to the judge. "Can we have a legal definition of money fraud?" they asked, and "at what amount does money fraud become a felony?" Reasonable questions perhaps, except for the fact that the defendant in this trial, Tom DeLay, the former GOP House Majority Leader, was not charged with money fraud. Reporting on these questions, the WSJ Law Blog also shared the judge's reaction as he shook his head while reading the questions to counsel, and said, "they are clearly off on a track that has nothing to do with our trial." He then sent a note back to the jury saying, in part, "I am afraid you may be getting away from the decisions you must make." Later that same day, this Austin, Texas jury apparently got back on track and convicted the former Houston Congressman of the actual charge, money laundering, a charge that does not include the element of fraud. The claim in this case was that prior to the 2002 election, DeLay funnelled $190,000 in corporate money to seven candidates, an action that violated Texas State Law. Now, in a post Citizen's United age, and on the heels of a mid-term election in which even the dog-catcher races seemed to be awash in unrestricted corporate funds, it may seem surprising that DeLay was prosecuted... or surprising that in 2002, one could apparently buy seven political races for less than the cost of a single-family home. Ah, those were simpler times.
But for those with an eye on juries, the interesting fact is the jury's attention to charges that were not on the verdict form or in the instructions. What pulled the jurors' attention to "money fraud?" It raises the question of the jury's agenda, and it suggests some specific lessons for anyone who wants to get a handle on the sometimes mysterious workings inside the deliberation room.