A so-called "expert" witness for the defense named...
Charlotte Theresa Palmer took the stand this morning, and remains on the stand as of the noon break. (This quickie report is filed from the law library on the 24th Floor of the courthouse) The prosecution has argued against Palmer having any "expert" status, noting she has never held any licenses in Minnesota and her experience is primarily in Georgia, but Palmer was allowed to take the stand.
However, the jury appears to find Palmer's testimony less-than-enthralling. The jurors seldom take notes or appear interested during her testimony, not even the few jurors who habitually write stuff down and seem to follow the proceedings with some degree of interest. For most of the jury, this is the Maxwell Death March, and long slow painful demise by acute boredom appears imminent, especially for the young juror I call "The Dude Who Loves Sports."
Sometimes this juror can barely contain himself from dropping his jaw and making an expression like "could you possibly be more tedious?" On Friday, while the lawyers were out of the room, and jurors were chatting in an animated fashion, this juror said something like, "There's NO WAY these two people didn't know each other, I mean COME ON." Another male juror said, quickly, "Baseball. Baseball."
"Yeah," said Dude, stretching and yawning. "Whatever. Baseball."
The defendant, Larry Maxwell, sat in his chair and stared straight ahead, seemingly listening intently. It must have been excruciating to hear the jury chatting and laughing in this manner. At one point, when the jury was behind a closed door, their laughing and animated discussion was so loud--with Dude's voice floating above the rest--that prosecutor Liz Johnston made an offhand remark like, "They're having a PARTY back there!"
None of this bodes well for the defense. For some reason, however, a major portion of Larry Reed's questioning seems to thrust at the question of whether Larry D. Maxwell was ever a LOAN OFFICER. Given the complexity of the case, I am unable to discern at this point how this point would manage to negate some of the charges, but Reed is hitting this point hard and seemingly making some headway...though not enough headway for any of the jurors to be putting effort into note-taking.
Palmer--who is being put forward as an "expert"--indicated she knew Larry Maxwell for some time prior to 1985 when she lived in Minnesota, because they were (in Palmer's words) part of a small "ethnic community." Palmer testified at length about the customary procedures for loans and mortgages, based on her experience and research which--as prosecution managed to establish--involved looking up Minnesota's laws, since Palmer has never been licensed in Minnesota.
The prosecution appears to be laying the groundwork to attempt to have all of Palmer's testimony stricken from the record. During cross examination, a few rather interesting loopholes were found in Palmer's resume, including a statement that she'd been a broker since 1995, therefore 15 years. (The reader is urged to use his/her fingers to figure out how long ago was 1995. Here's a clue: it was less than 15 years ago, no matter how you slice and dice it)
The most excruciating moment had to be watching the witness--who habitually says the word "borrower" like "bower"--assert she had graduated from Dillard College in New Orleans "magnum (sic) cum laude." The prosecution said he'd never heard of "that one." Palmer seemed somewhat surprised to learn the correct spelling was "magna" not "magnum."
Mercifully, prosecutor Brad Johnson said, well, perhaps it was a typo.
During cross examination, Palmer said she used to work for Fieldstone Mortgage, which is now out of business, and also for "Novastar" out of Kansas, which is still in existence but has--according to Palmer--stopped doing loans. Twice during her testimony, Ms. Palmer's cell phone went off in her bag some five feet to my left, leaving me to wonder if she'd EVER been an expert witness before, since most individuals who spend much time in court learn to habitually turn off their phones.
I doubt if prosecutor Brad Johnson will ask this question, however. There's an adage more firm than "never fight a land war in Asia" and it is as follows: Never ask a witness something on the stand unless you already know the answer.
Given the pace of the witnesses, I have my doubts the defense will manage to finish up before the end of the day. There was much finagling with exhibits, trying to establish the correct exhibit numbers. This confusion seemed quite innocent for the first hour or so, but closer to lunch it began to come off as a deliberate stall tactic.
Watching the case for a few days, now, I've begun to view it differently than I did when it first started. It seemed to me that Maxwell was rather random, a bad actor who got his hand caught in a cookie jar where he'd already been caught once by the criminal justice system, brought down by bad luck and the random factor of an identity theft victim's spouse "going all Columbo" and launching a one-woman investigation.
But now I view things differently. Now I see this case as "The Lid," and beneath "The Lid" is a bubbling, complex, boiling pot of fraud layered thickly, richly, deliciously into the neighborhoods and suburbs of the Twin Cities, one thing connecting to another, the threads not random but part of a massive sweater. Keep pulling those threads, and heaven knows what is stripped naked: churches, community leaders, lenders, brokerages, and probably a politician or two.
This heavy, dark, evil lid on the witchy pot of mortgage fraud crime is being carefully, methodically lifted by Brad Johnson--a mild mannered prosecutor whose brilliance comes through not in showy flashes, but in layers of methodical cunning--and Liz Johnston, who seems like something of a beginner and yet she is intensely committed to her supporting role, serious and yet pleasant, even with opposing witnesses. There is something about Liz which makes a person think, "This is somebody who believes in MORALITY, in DOING THE RIGHT THING." She looks like the kind of person who would play a nurse in a war movie, who would hold the hand of a dying soldier and talk, cheerfully, of baseball and hot dogs until the soldier passed to the other side, then go take care of the next soldier because, really, there wasn't a moment to spare for ONESELF.
A few days ago, Liz was trying to stretch and I noticed the bottoms of her shoes were quite worn. What, I wondered, do they pay these prosecutors? While defense attorney Larry Reed has a selection of neckties straight out of GQ Magazine, Brad's neckties seem less flashy and more finely-aged, the sort of thing you might wear in sentimental remembrance of a fun-loving uncle, who didn't leave much of an inheritance.
Court is resuming and I return to my bloggy post.