RICO Suave: Closing Arguments at Pellicano Trial

“Sitting up there in the second row is a dirty cop. A dishonest cop. A corrupt cop. A man who sold his badge for $2,500 a month.” Say what you will about prosecutor Daniel Saunders, he gets to the point. He uttered these words about former LAPD sergeant Mark Arneson Tuesday morning, early on in the government’s closing argument in the RICO trial of private eye Anthony Pellicano and four co-defendants (including Arneson), who are facing nearly 80 counts involving wire fraud, conspiracy, identity theft and bribery. There may also have been one or two library book fines thrown in there, but after a while I stopped counting.

The problem facing Saunders was that he had to remind the jurors of each and every count – not only matching the alleged crimes to the names of victims, but also to whom, exactly, among the defendants, the counts pertained. (Abner Nicherie is only on the hook for one wiretapping allegation.) Saunders also had to give a brief summary of the charges, which ran his argument to almost an hour past the trial’s normal 2 p.m. closing time.

Still, the jurors remained attentive throughout the long day and Saunders landed some jabs, describing Pellicano’s investigation business as “a thoroughly corrupt organization . . . operated by a very well-connected and highly paid thug.”

As an orator Saunders maintained an even keel – appearing neither ingratiating nor demanding toward the jurors. He would not be rushed, yet he seemed mindful, in the afternoon, of just how long he was running. More important, Saunders displayed a formidable command of his material, speaking for long stretches of time without referring to notes. Yet the sheer Alexandrian inventory of charges precluded him from engaging in the kind of narrative-tweaking storytelling that might have brought the eight-week proceedings to more vivid life.

Tomorrow the PowerPoint is passed to the defense, so in terms of courtroom theatrics there will be plenty of potential Reginald Rose moments. The real 12 Angry Men stuff begins Friday, though, when the jury is expected to get the case.

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