10. Can Whitey Bulger receive a fair trial?
I hate when people answer a question with a question but…the more important question is: Should he be entitled to a fair trial, and the answer is yes. The most courageous act of our second president’s life was when he stepped up to the plate, when nobody else would, and defended British soldiers on trial for murder at the doorstep of the Revolutionary War. He believed in fairness and process, and his sentiments were later embedded in both the Massachusetts Constitution and the Bill of Rights. This trial is, and should be, both a civics lesson and gut check for all of us. Our Constitution protects the best of us, the worst of us and everyone in between. As for [the] initial question, I would hope so, because to believe otherwise betrays my core belief system; but I have my doubts.
9. Why should I care?
Because big brother is watching and encroaching on civil liberties every day. This case is about both substantive and procedural justice. When we honor the constitution and its protections, we honor our nation and those who have shed blood on our behalf, and those who continue to shed blood. Our system isn't perfect, but it is what separates us from the rest of the world. My 12-year-old son Matty just finished Orwell’s 1984. His comment? “Dad, George Orwell was a prophet.”
8. Is this case really going to last three months?
Yes. The amount of information is staggering; the witness lists [are] prodigious. Everyone involved is in for the long haul, because they have to be. A long criminal trial is a little like the NHL season: The beginning is fast-paced and exciting; the middle drags a bit; and the end, like the playoffs, is worth the price of admission. There will be some amazing offensive plays, great team defense, and blood and teeth all over the place. Luckily, [defense attorney J.W.] Carney already has his playoff beard.
7. Do the lawyers have to keep arguing about everything? What’s the point when we know the outcome?
In order to honor the Constitution, they have no choice. Bulger is being represented by warriors who genuinely buy in because they have to. This is not grandstanding, this is zealous advocacy–the same advocacy each of us would want and be entitled to if we were on trial.
6. But can there really be any surprises in this trial?
You betcha! A trial of this magnitude will breed bombshells. Some will be unexpected and honest mistakes, and some will be troubling and, at the very least, violate the rules of the playground. How those bombshells are handled will be powerful insights into the skill and fortitude of the advocates. The rules around the exchange of information in federal crime cases, what is formally called “discovery,” is nuanced and tactical, but unfortunately it also lends itself to abuse and gamesmanship. Whether intentional or not, the U.S. Attorney’s office will pop up with new information in the middle of the trial that will pose challenges to the defense team. As for the other inevitable surprises, your guess is as good as mine.
5. How good are the lawyers in this trial?
The prosecutor is a seasoned veteran and an excellent trial lawyer. The defense lawyers are also outstanding. Carney is a wily, fearless veteran and a very savvy strategist. His wingman, Hank Brennan, will make his mark in this case. I grew up in the legal system with Hank, and he is razor sharp and dedicated. And they both believe to their cores that what they are doing is meaningful.
4. Should the first judge, [Richard G. Stearns] really have been removed by the federal appeals court?
Yes. I would not necessarily question his sense of professionalism or integrity, but perception and reality sometimes cross paths in the law. And he had to go, even if there was only a slight chance of a bias on his part. Judges are human beings just like the rest of us, and procedural fairness has to matter in this case or nothing does.
3. How fair is this process to the families of the victims? Shouldn't we feel sorry for them?
Yes, and I can't imagine how horrible all this has been for all of them. They will get their day in court. They have been and will continue to be heard, but Whitey deserves his day–or months–in court.
2. Do we all need to be experts in the law to understand what’s going on?
No. Trials are about people, emotions and stories as much as they are about the law, and this trial will be full of compelling stories. All those fancy Latin phrases mean very little. What matters are principles of fairness, the stories and the people telling the stories.
1. Why does Uncle Sam, and by extension, do we, the taxpayers, have to pay for all of this?
A legitimate gripe, because this trial is costing us a lot of dough. However, there is no alternative. Whitey deserves the defense we are paying for, and the United States has to marshal all of its resources to see this through. This is not Iraq; it is not Nazi Germany; and it is not Guantanamo Bay. This is a court of law in the greatest country in the world, where we honor liberty above all else.
About the legal expert
Chris Dearborn, Associate Clinical Professor of Law at Suffolk University Law School, is a former senior associate at the Boston law firm of Rankin & Sultan, Dearborn has been called upon by news organizations from AP and The Boston Globe to WBUR and New England Cable News (NECN) for his informed analysis of former Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner’s corruption trial, the Boston Marathon bombing case, the sentencing of longtime Bulger girlfriend Catherine Greig, and other major courtroom stories with a local angle.