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How did Martha Stewart wind up being convicted of a felony?

By March 22, 2004law

Jeffery Toobin’s New Yorker article about Martha Stewart (A Bad Thing) is worth reading. I love this passage:

Another disaster for the defense came in the person of Stewart’s close friend Mariana Pasternak, a Westport real-estate broker. Stewart and Pasternak spoke daily, saw each other weekly, and had travelled together to the Galápagos, Egypt, Brazil, and Peru. In December of 2001, they went to Mexico and Panama. Pasternak’s hair was darker than Stewart’s, but they had the same expensive coiffure and similarly refined tastes. Regarding a conversation with Stewart on the balcony of their hotel suite in Los Cabos, [Stewart’s attorney] Morvillo asked her, “You were in a chair?”

“I was in a chaise,” Pasternak corrected.

The best part of the article is the explanation of why Stewart’s attorney didn’t put her on the stand, despite the damaging evidence that came out during the government’s case.

One of the most frequently raised questions about the trial was why Stewart put on such a meagre defense. A high-powered defense team, it was asserted, should have come up with something in response to a month of government witnesses. As it turned out, however, when Morvillo finally had the chance to call witnesses he had almost no good options. Most important, he thought that it was out of the question for Stewart herself to testify. She had no good answers for the most basic questions. What explanation could she give for altering the phone log at Ann Armstrong’s desk? How did Pasternak know that the Waksals were dumping their shares? And if Stewart told her, as she certainly did, why did she deny to investigators that she knew of the Waksal sales?

What’s more, in a cross-examination of Stewart, the rest of her life would be open to ruthless scrutiny. Wasn’t it true that the State of New York had charged her with lying about the location of her residence in order to avoid some taxes? In that case, didn’t she testify under oath that she hadn’t appeared on the “Today” show in 1991—and wasn’t that testimony false? Was it true that the state concluded that the information Stewart supplied “could not always be relied upon”? (Stewart lost the tax case and ultimately paid the state more than two hundred thousand dollars.) Morvillo could imagine other cross-examination avenues: Ms. Stewart, let me direct your attention to May, 1997. Did you call your neighbor’s landscaper in East Hampton a “fucking liar,” then attempt to run him down in your Suburban truck? Did he scream that you were crushing him? Did you pay him a settlement for civil damages? (The landscaper, Matthew Munnich, filed a complaint with the police, which did not result in any charges against Stewart, but she did pay him an undisclosed amount to preëmpt a civil lawsuit.) How would the imperious Stewart hold up under this kind of questioning? Morvillo was not prepared to find out. Even more important, he knew that, under federal sentencing guidelines, Stewart would face a longer sentence if Judge Cedarbaum thought she had lied on the witness stand. Given the way the case was going, and the likelihood of conviction, Morvillo didn’t want to take that risk, either.

The article is also noteworthy for its explanation of how Martha Stewart could probably have avoided getting indicted if she had not been so cavalier about the government investigation.


P.S. If you appreciate these kinds of observations, you might want to read this as well.
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