Free Martha

Martha Stewart found guilty. Free Martha.

Miscarriage of justice

The jury found Martha Stewart guilty of conspiracy, making false statements, and obstruction of justice. This is so wrong. This is a terrible miscarriage of justice.

The judge had already thrown out the most serious charge against Martha, that she had committed securities fraud against shareholders of her own company Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia by making a statement that she was innocent of wrongdoing in the sale of her ImClone shares (Washington Post).

I said it last June when the government brought the charges, and I'll say it again: the only reason they went after Martha is because she was an easy target. In the grand scheme of things, her offenses are, to put it crudely, "mice nuts." The value of the 4,000 shares of ImClone stock is far, far less than the amount of money the government spent investigating and prosecuting the case.

guilty

No, the government wanted a conviction to prove they were doing something about corporate corruption. They hadn't been able to get Kenny Boy Lay (Enron), Bernie Ebbers (Worldcom), John Rigas (Adelphia), Richard Scrushy (HealthSouth), Dennis Kozlowski (Tyco), or any of dozens of other "evil-doers" who had actually run huge corporations into the ground and cost thousands and thousands of people their jobs and their life-savings. So they went after Martha for telling a lie. (Since then the government's record has improved marginally, but Kenny Boy Lay is still at large.)

Chappell Hartridge, Juror No. 8 in Martha's trial

And the government got its wish with a supporting actor award going to Chappell Hartridge, Juror No. 8, who got his 15 minutes of fame telling the throng of assembled media that it was all about giving a "victory for the little guy" (Washington Post).

The justice system is in trouble when jurors think their job is to "send a message" rather than mete out justice.

In the US, we love to create idols and icons. This is what a lot of television is all about, creating celebrities. And just as we eagerly elevate and exalt them, we exult in their downfall. We love the rich and famous, and we love them even more if we can knock them down a peg. It's probably an expression of envy, one of the seven deadly sins.

Peter Bacanovic

The true miscreants in the Martha Stewart saga are broker Peter Bacanovic and his assistant Douglas Faneuil. They're the ones who truly betrayed their fiduciary capacities, who truly dealt in insider information (that ImClone CEO Sam Waksal and his family were dumping their shares in advance of adverse news). Appropriately, Bacanovic was found guilty and Faneuil pled guilty in a bargain with prosecutors.

I do agree that Martha did lie, conspire, and obstruct. The issue is that prosecuting those crimes, in the absence of any real fraud or harm to anyone else, is a misuse of prosecutorial power and government resources. It's like getting a traffic ticket for doing 31mph in a 30mph zone. Yes, it's a violation, but not all violations are equal.

What would we be saying if Martha had received the news that Waksal was dumping his shares and then done nothing? We'd be saying, "What a chump!"

Once again it wasn't the act, it was the cover-up. Martha should have said, "Of course I sold my shares based on the tip — I'm not stupid you know!" Instead, she tried to cover for Mr Bacanovic's poor judgment and indiscretion by saying the sale had been pre-arranged, and now they're both looking at jail time.