It’s supposed to be a runoff, but it looks more and more like a retrial as Victor Durand, former Gov. Edwin Edwards’ recalcitrant juror, attaches himself to the campaign.
Make that the recalcitrant juror from the trial Edwards lost. There was one the first time he went on trial, too — Clifford West — but that, in 1985, meant going out on a limb to take the government’s side. The positions were reversed in 2000 when everyone save Durand wanted to convict. “I was swiftly thrown off the jury,” Durand says. “I could have been the determining factor.”
Other jurors believed that federal Judge Frank Polozola wanted a guilty verdict, and believed their job was to go along, according to Durand. “There was nothing fair about what happened to Mr. Edwards.”
After Edwards finished first in the congressional primary a couple of weeks ago, Durand appeared at the celebration party, explaining, “I have been helping him on my own during the election campaign. I got an invitation and I wanted to be there.” In an interview with this newspaper last week, Durand said he was not campaigning for Edwards.
The hope may be to persuade voters that Edwards was wrongly convicted of a racket to rig casino gambling licenses, but, so long as Durand is advancing the proposition, the impression is bound to arise that only a flake could believe it.
It is hardly surprising that a spurned juror would badmouth the judge responsible, and the court record thoroughly belies the claim that Polozola gave Durand the heave-ho because he was the holdout during jury deliberations.
Nobody who attended the trial could fail to notice Polozola’s disdain for Edwards, but it was obviously Durand’s own fault that he wasn’t around to cast the vote that would have resulted in a mistrial. In fact, as the court of appeals noted in upholding the conviction, Polozola, who is now dead, “exercised restraint” over several days in response to Durand’s antics and threw him off only when he wouldn’t quit.
Besides, it is a bit rich for Durand to complain about his dismissal from the jury, considering it was his idea in the first place.
Durand says other jurors tried to intimidate him because he was “very vocal” on Edwards’ behalf. That much may be true, but to allege that Polozola responded with what amounts to a perversion of justice is flaky in the extreme. Polozola kicked Durand off the jury for a refusal to follow instructions and what he delicately termed a “lack of candor.”
Durand flouted Polozola’s orders first by failing to return a piece of transcript distributed during the trial, and then took a dictionary and thesaurus into the jury room where deliberations are required to proceed without “extrinsic” material.
Polozola had the books removed and repeated his instructions to the jury, but a couple of days later Durand fled the jury room in tears. He then wrote a note to Polozola, saying he had “doubts,” other jurors were ganging up on him, and perhaps it would be a good idea to dismiss him.
That didn’t happen, but a few days later the jury foreman reported that Durand was refusing to take part in deliberations and had once again defied instructions by bringing notes into and out of the jury room.
Quizzed by Polozola, Durand denied doing so, but other jurors backed up the foreman. Durand then suddenly remembered that he still had a verboten note in his wallet, and Polozola showed him the door.
Now, to point out what he sees as the absurdity of Edwards’ conviction, Durand asks, “Do you believe Edwin Edwards would jump into a dumpster for a bag (of money)?” Nobody ever suggested he had. Robert Guidry, then owner of the Treasure Chest in Kenner, did testify that he left bribes to be retrieved from a dumpster, but it was Edwards’ aide Andrew Martin who played the role of bagman. Perhaps we would have fewer recalcitrant jurors if they paid attention.
When Edwards was tried in 1985 on charges of taking payoffs for hospital construction permits, West sounded much like Durand, claiming to have been the target of “animosity” from fellow jurors, although back then it was allegedly the government who didn’t get a fair shake. West stayed on the jury, which duly wound up hung, but he made no difference in the end because the feds failed abysmally when they tried Edwards again.
Had Durand stayed around and voted to acquit, the feds would inevitably have tried again, and there is no reason to believe Edwards would have beaten the rap the second time around. Durand made no difference at the trial, and the same will be true in the campaign.
James Gill can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.