Dispatches From The Martha Stewart Trial

“The Big Guy” Strikes Back

Chance of conviction Wednesday, April 1, 2004: 90 percent A juror’s alleged lies to the court and unjustified suggestion that the verdict was a “victory for the little guy” create the (remote) possibility of a retrial. The meter drops to 90 percent.

As has been reported, Martha Stewart’s defense team has requested a new trial based on the premise that Chappell Hartridge, the juror who, an hour after the verdict, declared that it was a “message to bigwigs,” lied on his jury questionnaire. Although the motion probably has little chance of success, the allegation heaps more irony on a case already brimming with it.

On March 6, one day after the verdict was delivered, Stewart’s lead attorney Bob Morvillo received an unsolicited e-mail from Steve Winiarski, a recent treasurer of a Bronx-based Little League organization:

I find it interesting that the one juror, Chapelle Hartridge [sic], speaking out about this being a victory for the little guy, was suspected of running off with 1000’s of dollars from a local little league some 12 years ago… It made the people who know what he had done sick to their stomachs with his comments. The true little guys are the kids who he stole from.

In a follow-up interview with a private investigator for Stewart’s team (Frank Senerchia, the burly bodyguard who accompanied Stewart to court each day), Winiarski estimated that, as treasurer of the organization, Hartridge had stolen between $30,000 and $50,000. According to another Little League official, Ismael Rivera, Hartridge cashed organization checks to, among other things, make car payments (the Little League did not have a car) and pay telephone bills (the Little League did not have a telephone). If true, this explains why Hartridge, for one, had no trouble accepting the prosecution’s assertion that white-collar crime is about smart people doing stupid things.

The defense motion also presented allegations that Hartridge had been arrested for beating up a woman he lived with, had been sued several times (apparently for not paying bills), and might have been fired from a job at Citibank for “drug use”—the job that allegedly allowed him to cash the Little League checks with only one signature. An affidavit from the erstwhile girlfriend, Gail Outlaw, describes the alleged battering:

When I arrived home he became verbally abusive to me. I responded by telling him to leave my home and he flew into a rage. He punched me, with a closed fist, in the face. When I tried to fight back he began grabbing at my clothes, choking me and shouting that he was going to kill me. He lifted me off the ground and threw me into a statue of an elephant that is in my apartment. I began screaming because I was in fear for my life and he went to the bedroom to turn the music on to drown out my screams. At that moment, I ran from the apartment into the street wearing only my slip. On the street I saw one of my daughters who called the police. The police came and arrested Mr. Hartridge, taking him from my apartment in handcuffs. The police instructed my daughter to take me to the hospital. The extent of my injuries were a deep bruise on my side, from where he threw me into the statue, and a bruised and bloodshot eye from where he punched me. As a result of the arrest, Mr. Hartridge was arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court and spent several days in jail. Ultimately, I dropped the charges because his family put pressure on me to do so and because I could not afford to miss any more time at work to pursue the matter.

According to the defense, Hartridge lied on his jury questionnaire when he failed to mention these events. Honoring the court’s decision to keep the questionnaires confidential, the motion does not cite Hartridge’s answers to the three questions below. People familiar with the situation, however, say they are unequivocal.

42. Have you ever been in court before, other than for a minor traffic violation?

Hartridge presumably said “no.” The defense believes he appeared in court in connection with the civil suits and while being arraigned for punching his girlfriend.

43. Have you or has anyone close to you ever: …  d. Been sued by someone?  e. Been accused of wrongdoing on a job?

Again, Hartridge presumably said “no.” The civil judgments entered against Hartridge and his wife appear to prove that he and someone close to him had “been sued by someone.” Whether the alleged Little League embezzlement and/or the possible Citibank dismissal constitute a formal “accusation of wrongdoing on a job” is less clear. The Little League group never pursued the matter, ostensibly because it feared negative publicity, and Hartridge’s work as treasurer was unpaid—legally, anyway—so he might not have considered the position a “job.” The only evidence of the Citibank incident, meanwhile, is Rivera’s second- or third-hand belief.

45. Have you or has a family member or close friend ever been questioned by law enforcement, accused of, charged with, or convicted of any crime, or been the subject of a criminal investigation, other than a minor traffic violation?

Again, presumably, Hartridge said “no.” The defense assumes that, when the police allegedly handcuffed him, dragged him out of Gail Outlaw’s apartment, and threw him in jail, they questioned him and/or accused him of a crime. The records regarding this incident are sealed, so the defense’s evidence is currently limited to Outlaw’s affidavit. In addition to filing the motion for a new trial, however, the defense has petitioned the Criminal Court of the City of New York to have the records unsealed.

The granting of a new trial based on post-verdict juror revelations is apparently very rare. According to a former prosecutor, to have a chance in this instance, the defense will have to prove that Hartridge:

1) intentionally lied on his questionnaire to remain in the jury pool;2) would have been dismissed for cause if he had answered truthfully; and3) had a bias or motive that affected his impartiality.

On the first issue, Hartridge (or his defenders) might claim that he either misunderstood the questions on the questionnaire or simply made mistakes in his answers. If so, the Stewart case will be laden with yet another irony: a juror who dismissed the idea that Stewart’s alleged false statements were good-faith mistakes might invoke the same defense for himself (even though, in his case, the content of both the answers and questions is undisputed, whereas, in Stewart’s case, the allegedly false statements were preserved only via handwritten notes, and the questions weren’t recorded at all). If so, one wonders whether Judge Cedarbaum will be as unforgiving with regard to Hartridge’s answers as he was with Stewart’s, or whether she will see doubt that, with regard to Stewart and Bacanovic, he and the rest of the jury did not.

On the second issue—whether Hartridge would have been challenged for cause had he answered truthfully—the defense cites the case of another potential juror, one who was apparently challenged by both the defense and the government because of a “history of lawlessness” that included DWI, petty larceny, and disturbing the peace (for passing out in a diner). The challenge was granted.

The third issue is whether Hartridge had a motive to lie and a bias that affected his ability to be impartial. The defense will presumably argue that Hartridge’s motives included money, fame, and the opportunity to use the trial to “send a message” to women and corporate fat-cats, two groups he apparently had it in for. With regard to fame and money, the motion cites Hartridge’s post-verdict press conference and his alleged requests for compensation from television networks in exchange for his appearances. Similarly, the motion says that Hartridge’s post-trial suggestions that the verdict was “a victory for the little guy” and a “message to bigwigs” revealed the message he wanted to send.

As described in a previous dispatch, Hartridge’s comments appeared to reflect misunderstanding of and/or disregard for the specific charges in the case—lying and obstruction of justice, not insider trading and corporate fraud. The defense suggests that the remarks revealed an undisclosed but influential class-bias and that Hartridge’s alleged pummeling of his girlfriend is evidence of an anti-women bias (or might have been viewed as such in voir dire). The defense will probably also point out that, if Hartridge did view the case as being about poor vs. rich instead of about dishonesty, he would have had a personal motive for doing so: It is presumably harder to preach about the righteousness of convicting someone of a felony when, to put yourself in the position to convict, you committed a similar felony (perjury vs. false statements).

And there is another issue. All along—especially in the indictment and post-verdict press conferences—the government has maintained that this case is about dishonesty, and that, to protect the integrity of the system, dishonesty cannot be tolerated, no matter who the defendant is. If, therefore, under penalty of perjury, Chappell Hartridge lied on his jury questionnaire, the government will have a tough decision to make. On the one hand, it will want to protect the Stewart verdict, a verdict that justified two years of intense work and vindicated the prosecutors (who had been accused of selectivity and overzealousness). On the other hand, having just cited the Stewart case as a demonstration that, if you lie, no matter who you are, the government is going to come after you, the prosecutors may now have an opportunity (an obligation?) to not only retry Stewart and Bacanovic—what good is a conviction for dishonesty if it relied, in part, on dishonesty?—but to also indict Chappell Hartridge for perjury.