Mess-trial

April 06, 2004

JUROR No. 4, a 79-year-old retired schoolteacher and former lawyer, brought in homemade carrot cake for the other 11 jurors. In court after all the evidence was in, she also allegedly gestured an "OK" sign to the defense. In jury deliberations, she reportedly was the only one resistant to convicting on any counts. And in the end, threats she received after the unusual publication of her name by two New York news organizations caused the judge Friday to declare a mistrial in the 6-month-long, $6 million prosecution of Tyco International executives L. Dennis Kozlowski and Mark Swartz on charges of looting the conglomerate of $600 million.

It's tempting to simply decry the whole mess: Who doesn't want justice well and quickly served in this case and the other high-profile, likely even more complex cases of alleged corporate crimes yet to be tried? But it should be noted that not everything went awry. The jury reportedly was smart enough to look beyond galling tales of greed, such as the Fellini-esque birthday party that Mr. Kozlowski threw for his wife, in part with Tyco money. They even sorted through tough accounting issues. Eleven of 12 jurors were said to have agreed to convict on several counts. Even Juror No. 4, despite everything else, appears to have been doing the right thing in not caving in -- if her conscience truly told her so.

Of course, now there are more pressures for judges to restrict media access to juror information. Typically, juror names are public information, but by convention, news outlets voluntarily don't publicize them during trials. That ought not change. For one thing, this was an extraordinarily rare chain of events. For another, if Juror No. 4 did gesture "OK" in open court, she arguably brought the undesired attention on herself.

Here's what's important now. As with the recent mistrial in the obstruction-of-justice case of investment banker Frank Quattrone, prosecutors must move assertively toward a retrial. If that leads to a plea bargain, as is now speculated, it ought to be one that buttresses public confidence -- in both the courts and government efforts to prevent corporate crimes.

As for the public, patience is in order: Punishing corporate miscreants is a useful and necessary deterrent, but it's not an easy legal task, and tighter corporate oversight by the Securities and Exchange Commission -- just now getting off the ground -- ultimately may be more critical to preventing more corporate scandals.

Correction

An editorial yesterday incorrectly stated the House of Delegates' final vote on legislation restricting political contributions by limited liability companies. The bill passed 78-57. The Sun regrets the error.

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