John Edwards and The Rocket

In this town you’re innocent until investigated. – Christopher Plummer to George Clooney in Syriana.

I have about ten other things to write this evening but could not let the news of Roger Clemens‘ acquittal pass without comment – especially coming on the heels of the John Edwards acquittal.

As with most things in the legal world these days I have a slightly different take, one I never would have believed or supported seven, eight years ago.

It’s really pretty simple, though no less disturbing for that simplicity, in Roger’s case the US Attorney’s office took five years and millions of dollars to go after an athlete because he may have tried to extend his career by taking steroids and HGH, then ‘obstructed and perjured himself to Congress’. Clemens, in turn,  lost five years and millions of dollars in legal fees defending himself – an option not available to 98% of the US population.

Put aside for a moment the inanity of the obstruction charge – did the Rocket somehow stop Congress from enacting a string of baseball laws? (Can one even begin to imagine what baseball would look like under a Congressional mandate?)  – and the fact that there are 435 men and women in the greater Washington DC area obstructing Congress on a daily basis think of what was brought to bear on Clemens.

Forget the lying to Congress charges – a law that clearly does not apply to government employees;  forget the fact that not a single commentator in any forum monotonously carrying on with the kind of righteous indignation that in a perfect world would be reserved for real issues would hesitate for a millisecond if told that if he took a pill he’d get to play major league baseball; forget that the physical evidence had been kept in a Pepsi can for years by a guy even the prosecution called a tainted witness; forget the mistrial where the US Attorney’s Office ironically tried to cheat to prove Clemens cheated; forget all that.

The important thing – the only thing – to take away from this and the Edwards acquittal is that any one of us under similar circumstances – even knowing he is innocent-  has to take a plea agreement, as Clemens was offered two years ago.  I’ve discussed the (awful) mathematics of the indictment- plea-trial process before, without Russ Hardin and his team, Roger pleas, takes 6 months or so, a fine and probation – same with Edwards.  With some resolve and lots and lots of money, Clemens and Edwards won out over what were, really, pretty poor cases.  These are n, however, not ‘regular people’ results. These are ‘people- who- can- match- the -Government’s- resources’ results -that’s the disturbing thing, though it will be lost under all the sports talk radio angst.

I have to respect Roger, however, he could have pled to fibbing to Congress, probably been sentenced to home arrest like Barry Bonds (got to imagine you can’t even get to all the rooms in Clemens or Bonds houses in six months) and moved on with his life five years ago.  Instead, he spent millions on a defense and risked years in prison to defend himself.

To what end, I have no choice but to wonder today? Acquitted in this case means he goes home, his reputation is shot, there is not a sports radio know-it-all on the east coast, at least, who is going to ‘buy’ the jury’s decision.

Innocent until investigated indeed.  It’s not over by a long shot, either, Clemens is eligible for the Hall of Fame in November – the airwaves will be alight in endless debate: Does Roger deserve to be in the company of Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, et al.?


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