If you like excitement and absurdities, today was a day to be sitting in the courtroom in Missoula, Mont. watching the W.R. Grace criminal trial unwind.
Trying to get over pneumonia, I was stuck in Seattle and knew I was going to miss the performances of prosecutor Kris McLean and Grace’s top dog, David Bernick. Sick or not, I would have crawled the 500 miles to watch what turned out to be the U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy show.
Relying on reports from a couple of friends watching the trial and written roundups from the Missoulian’s hot court reporter, Tristan Scott, and the University of Montana’s Elizabeth Diehl, it looked like a hell of a session.
According to observers, His honor came unglued and did everything short of beating the government lawyers with his gavel. He gave the jury a 20-minute break and, with no subtlety whatsoever, ripped into McLean, who is only about midway through the prosecution case, for failing to prove some of the eight criminal counts brought against Grace and five of its executives.
To some in the courtroom, Molloy’s scathing denunciation sounded like he was going to end the trial – which was estimated to run between four and five months.
“Six weeks we have been at this and I don’t know what the conspiracy is,” Molloy lectured the assistant U.S. attorney.
“Where’s the conspiracy? At some point you have to prove that there was a conspiracy to do something illegal,” Scott quoted the judge as saying.
Diehl, one of the mixed group of law and journalism students offering non-stop coverage of the trial added this quote from Molloy: “There is not an agreement where people decided to sign a piece of paper saying they were going to break the law. Who is going to testify about the agreement? If you can’t prove that, you can’t prove this case!”
McLean finally found an opportunity to reply.
“We beg the court for some patience, we have only called 22 witnesses,” the prosecutor said and added that they were slowly building the case.
He said the proof of the conspiracy is emerging through Grace’s own internal documents and memos.
Molloy disagreed and, those in the courtroom wrote, ranted on saying he didn’t believe that moral culpability should be confused with illegal actions.
“Maybe what I should do is just tell you that you have to put on proof of the conspiracy. And if you can’t prove that then we can shorten the trial,” Molloy spewed.
The prosecution already has entered many of the potentially damning Grace documents into evidence, but it remains unclear if the jury will ever see them. The defense objects to the introduction of most of the incriminating reports and letters, and the judge often upholds Grace’s argument.
Molloy has a reputation for being the king of his own courtroom. It will be fascinating to see how the legal scholars and not just reporters write about his handling of this trial.
Not that Molloy needed any help in chopping the prosecution into puppy food. Grace lawyer Bernick, never one to miss the opportunity to go for McLean’s throat, joined in the assault, bellowing that the government’s theory was “ridiculous, stupid” and “outrageous,” according to reports from the courtroom.
“This case does not have a compass your honor,” the Grace lawyer added. “They keep poisoning the well, poisoning the well, and poisoning the well, and then say give us more time!”
My thanks to my two journalistic colleagues for their careful work, which I have used to share today’s happening with others. To see the rest of their work, here’s a link to see the university’s play-by-play and the Missoulian’s website