Thursday, August 6, 2009

How painful. The O'Brien trial and my aching behind.

I just happened to be at the courthouse and City Hall yesterday. I needed a health card - City Hall is amazing now, by the way! You can go into one room, get your health card renewed or (in my case) replaced, get a marriage license, renew your drivers' license, pay off your fines and apply for a passport (you can't get a passport, just apply). All in the same room, all at different desks, just take a number. I was there with my wife yesterday to get a few things done, and it was great - we had to get one document from the courthouse, and we waited for more than an hour before someone saw us. Then we had five different errands to run at City Hall, and it took us half an hour, total. Almost no waiting at all. Maybe the city IS running efficiently in Mayor O'Brien's absence...

Speaking of Mayor O'Brien, since I just happened to be at the courthouse, around 10:00, I thought I would pop into the courtroom where the decision was scheduled to come down in his influence peddling trial. The courtroom was full, so I was ushered, along with about fifty others, into an overflow room. There, I was wedged in between a nice lady who is a friend of the O'Brien family, and councillor Rob Jellett. We sat there as the judge took the stage at 10:00 to give his decision. That isn't a typo. He really did take the stage.

I had figured this all out with Tom Pechloff in our newsroom before I left. He was going to be ready to go with Breaking News - to cut into the music with the story the second I called him with the verdict. Tom's shift ends at 10:30, but we both figured that at the latest, the verdict would come out at about 10:10 or 10:15, so he'd be able to put the Breaking News piece in before he left for the day. All I had to do was sit in the courtroom and watch, then rush out to a payphone and call Tom. And all I really had to say was "not guilty" or "guilty". Had there been more people in the building, I would have been able to go live myself right after the verdict, but half the building is on vacation and there was no one there to do that with me.

The judge began his speech with a brief statement about how this trial was not a credibility contest between Larry O'Brien and Terry Kilrea. He then went on, for an hour, to discuss the credibility of Larry O'Brien and Terry Kilrea. O'Brien appeared to be winning, in the judge's mind, the contest that was not a contest over credibility, and after five minutes I knew the final verdict would be "not guilty". But it went on for another hour! The judge seemed to be determined to read, line for line, the entire trial transcript. He would read, word for word, every email ecxhange between O'Brien and Kilrea, or Kilrea and John Baird. Then he would go over the telephone conversations, to the best of the recollections of the people involved, from both of their perspectives. Then, he would explain how the prosecution handled that particular email or phone call, and how the defense saw that particular email or phone call, and finally say what he thought, and move on to more emails and more phone calls.

I thought the whole thing was over about 45 minutes in, when he got to the end of all this communication that he was reading verbatim. But then he mentioned all the tangential witnesses, and started to read, verbatim, their testimonies as well. We already knew he was going to acquit O'Brien, just get on with it! My ass was hurting, there were people sweating on me, and my brain was totally numb. I took a breather to go outside and call Tom. Just to see if he was still there. After all, his shift had been over for some time. He was though, sticking around for the verdict and the news. About fifteen minutes later, it finally came. I had given up on waiting inside the spillover courtroom and watching on TV. This judge was boring me to death, and if I stood outside the courtroom I could drink a coffee.

There was a sense of relief, I think, more than anything else. There was not much of a cheer, but rather a sigh that seemed to emanate from the few courtrooms on the third floor of Elgin street. I think that, had the judge given his ruling right away, the courtroom might have erupted in a more satisfactory way. I think one of two things may have happened. Either the droning and repetition of the judge of facts everyone already knew actually lulled people to sleep, or robbed them of the will to celebrate or indeed the will to live. Or, the celebration and sigh of relief was not coming from O'Brien haters, or O'Brien supporters, but rather from people incredibly grateful that this man had stopped talking.

It was the people in the courtroom that were most interesting, however. A man wedged himself between me and councillor Jellett, then turned to me and started talking about a long and detailed and ramblingly insane left-wing conspiracy to "get" Larry O'Brien. Which sort of reflected the left-wing conspiracy that Kilrea seemed to think existed to "get" him. I didn't understand, but fortunately the judge started speaking while this guy was still talking, so I never had to respond with "wtf?" Then there was the pudgy, irate woman in the wheelchair, who was told that there was no room in the main courtroom and that she, along with me and several others, would have to go to an overflow room with a TV screen. This was fine with her, because there were some people in the main courtroom who were out to get her. She made sure she let them know, however, flipping someone I couldn't see a very vehement middle finger before she turned around and furiously wheeled out.

But of course, it all came down to Larry O'Brien and Terry Kilrea. And the credibility contest which did but didn't exist. And it all came down to Kilrea's believability - oh wait. Maybe it was a believability contest. That's totally different. The judge felt that Kilrea was less than credible - or, believable, if you will. He made several references to Kilrea's sense of self-importance, his desire to get his name in the paper and his propensity for inflating claims. In the end, though, it came down to this - both men were likely telling the truth (this is me speaking, not the judge now). O'Brien really didn't offer a parole board appointment to Kilrea. And Kilrea really did think that he had. But O'Brien, walking a fine line (the judges' words again) with criminality, certainly went out of his way to make Kilrea think that a parole board appointment was in the cards thanks to some non-existent influence he had.

So I guess implying something you can't deliver to get someone to drop out of the mayor's race is just politics, but had O'Brien really had that clout, and had actually made it happen, then it would have indeed been criminal. However, had he actually made it happen, Kilrea would never have complained about it, and no one would ever have been the wiser, right? The judge did say that if implying things like this was illegal, we would have to build bigger jails. It seems to me that if we knew about everything that goes on behind closed doors in Ottawa, we would be overrun in prisons. This can't be that unusual. Whatever happened with that Cadman thing, anyway? My ass hurts. I feel like I've been in prison.

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