NOTE: Though he hardly needs introducing, Bill Baxley appears here because he was Mack Roberts' lawyer. Fuller is trial judge Mark Fuller; and Deen is Mobile attorney Jeff Deen, who defended Paul Hamrick.
Like other federal courthouses built since the Oklahoma City bombing, the Frank M. Johnson Federal Courthouse was designed with security in mind. It’s an imposing granite semicircular building, with the entrance about 200 feet from the street. With many of the older courthouses, the steps lead to the street, which limits the ability of reporters to snag subjects for quotes. The broad expanse of cement created by the layout was perfect for reporters and worked out well for the Siegelman trial.
Near the street, courthouse personnel roped off an area for the television cameras. Those wishing to be interviewed – as Siegelman and his lawyers always did – merely had to walk over to the bundled microphones for instant publicity.
Scrushy, rather than his attorneys, did most of the talking for his side. Roberts, Hamrick and their teams laid low, which wasn’t terribly difficult since Siegelman and Scrushy were the marquee names and camera hogs to boot.
I won’t pretend that I wasn’t apprehensive about being around Siegelman every day for weeks and girded myself against responding in kind if he insulted or berated me.
I needn’t have worried. Siegelman was pleasant and friendly and didn’t seem to take it personally when I asked tough questions outside court. He could be funny, often at his own expense, though my favorite example was a crack at mine. During jury deliberations, everyone raced to court for news that the jury was coming in. It was a false alarm – a question for the judge, not a verdict. I walked down the stairs and saw Siegelman as he exited the elevator. He approached me, and to my surprise, began praising the depth of my questions and reporting on the trial.
A marshal who busted me weeks before for interviewing Bill Baxley inside the courthouse – prohibited during this trial -- saw us and jumped on me again. I stammered that the governor had asked me a question, and Siegelman backed me up. When the marshal left, Siegelman laughed.
“Well, it’s about time I got you in trouble,” he said.
It was a nice touch, and another moment when I saw his good side.
In court as out Siegelman presented a natural and usually relaxed demeanor to jurors. He sat straight-backed, not just attentive, but bright-eyed and interested. He made regular eye contact with jurors and often smiled their way.
To the extent that a defendant can help himself by conveying a sense of humanity to jurors, be it with smiles like Siegelman or, as with Mack Roberts, a gentle if slightly bored serenity, Scrushy failed miserably.
It didn’t help that he and his regiment of lawyers were seated at a table directly across from the jurors, their backs to the opposite wall, with Scrushy dead center. I wasn’t always in the main courtroom, and even when there, could have missed it, but not once did I see Scrushy smile. If he made eye contact with jurors, it was fleeting.
The court was wired with the Internet, and many of the lawyers had laptops that allowed them to review documents scanned in as evidence. Scrushy was the only defendant with a laptop. He disappeared into it. His lawyers could be banging away at a witness, but their client was, or pretended to be, oblivious. Scrushy was in his own world, eyes searching the screen, his hand pressed on the mouse. I suppose he was reviewing court documents, but then again, maybe he was playing solitaire.
When jurors looked across the room they saw this man with a chalky complexion, hair black as the rims on his glasses, not a wrinkle in his expensive suits, obsessively working his laptop.
The armchair psychologist in me saw someone accustomed to commanding the attention of all in a room and controlling his environment. Here, Fuller was the boss, lawyers and witnesses did the talking, and protocol required Scrushy to remain silent. This made him intensely nervous, so he employed his laptop as escape mechanism.
Scrushy was the only defendant I never conversed with, the exception being the daily press gatherings. There was one awkward turn in the bathroom, when I walked in to find myself alone with him. To my surprise he said hello and used my name, and I replied in kind.
In court, the Scrushy contingent invariably included his wife Leslie, usually accompanied by several others and always by one or more black pastors.
Leslie Scrushy is, by any measure, attractive, a brunette with green eyes and smooth white skin, and always dressed to the nines. She was as personable as her husband was not. She appears genuine about her faith, if barmy.
During the trial the Washington Post published a remarkable feature story about her. She revealed that during the lead-up to her husband’s fraud trial, the couple was awakened by a telephone call at exactly 2:51 a.m. The caller instructed Scrushy to fire high-powered Washington attorney Abbe Lowell and replace him with Jim Parkman, the hammy Dothan lawyer credited by many for getting Scrushy off.
The caller, said Mrs. Scrushy, was God.
Yes, He uses the telephone.
There was something else in the story about the timing of National Pancake Week and how that proved to Leslie Scrushy that God was on their side. The piece reported that each morning she anointed the Montgomery courtroom with prayer.
“Leslie is very prophetic, and I think God will show her things,” her husband told the Post.
Lori Siegelman attended most days, usually with company. During Siegelman’s last year as governor one was forever hearing rumors that they were about to split. She was famously strong-willed and spent much of her time in Birmingham. He was a workaholic governor and an indefatigable campaigner. There was also the criminal investigation. Even the strongest marriages would bend under those pressures.
The rumors were of such persistence that I’m inclined to think there were problems. If so, they were healed by the trial.
I had never seen them together until the trial and witnessed, not a pretense of closeness, but the real thing. She sat behind him most days, and once, carried away by a lawyer’s argument, clapped. Fuller didn’t single her out, but angrily warned the crowd that future outbursts would lead to the culprit’s removal from court by the marshals.
Outside the pair held hands and whispered to one another. She spoke little if at all to reporters and gave me more than a few looks that could kill, and I didn’t begrudge her a one.
The most steadfast member of Siegelman crew was Kenneth Marshall, a paralyzed black veteran who watched the trial from his wheelchair, in the aisle and near the front of the court. A friendly, handsome man with a deep baritone, he was known as Maze – the nickname given him by Siegelman because he was “amazing.”
Roberts generally had family members, regular folk who watched grimly on.
Hamrick’s was the smallest supporting contingent, usually just his wife Tatiana, a thin, pretty blonde who rarely smiled, as one supposes might be expected of a woman whose husband was on the dock. Several jurors remarked after the trial that they were impressed by her stoic supportiveness.
Hamrick, 42 at the time, had two daughters, the oldest two. He fake-smiled through much of the testimony about him, as if to mock it. In other respects, he was the most nervous of the four. Breaks often found him outside, chain-smoking with his wife, the color drained from his face. In the latter stages of the trial reporters began to note that Hamrick appeared to be aging before our eyes.
“He’s lost a lot of weight, his hair is turning gray and there’s been a lot of strain on him and his family. It’s been very hard on him,” said Deen, in a quote I used.
I may have aged a bit myself. At the end of each day’s session I raced to Cafe Louisa, a coffee bar in the Cloverdale section of town with an Internet connection. For two months it was my office. By the time I finished writing and answering questions from editors I was whipped.