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March 08, 2004

Martha Stewart Juror Says Her Changing
a Phone Message Brought Her Down

This AP story reports some post-trial comments by jurors in the Martha Stewart case. It seems that one of the key pieces of evidence was testimony that Stewart had tried to change a phone message from her stockbroker:

Other jurors said Stewart's assistant Ann Armstrong, who reluctantly testified that Stewart tried to alter a phone record of a message from her stockbroker, was the key witness leading them to the domestic diva's conviction.

Armstrong testified that Stewart sat down at Armstrong's desk to change a message from her broker, Peter Bacanovic, that informed her that he thought the ImClone stock price would start falling.

"She ultimately gave the testimony that was going to bring Martha down. That was a very important piece," said juror Chappell Hartridge, one of six jurors who spoke to "Dateline NBC" in interviews that aired Sunday night.

"We all believed her 100 percent," juror Adam Sachs said of Armstrong.

This is another example of a brutal fact of legal life: In a trial, evidence can often be confusing, difficult to understand, or even contradictory. If you are accused of wrong-doing, it may not be entirely clear whether what you did was wrong. (This can be especially true in intellectual-property cases, by the way.) On the other hand, evidence-tampering is very easy to understand. If jurors conclude that you tampered with evidence, they may well seize on that as "proxy evidence" that your actions must indeed have been wrong, otherwise why would you have tried to cover your tracks?

It bears repeating: If you've been sued, or if you think you're going to be sued, or if you hear that government authorities are investigating your actions, DON'T destroy or tamper with potential evidence. The chances are you'll only be hurting yourself.

March 8, 2004 in Criminal Penalties, Litigation, Record-keeping | Permalink

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