— If the court of public opinion has a bailiff, I pity him. Imaging dealing with the outcry from the Casey Anthony trial, for instance. When you consider TV, radio and internet social media, it’s overwhelming. One item on CNN’s website said, “Online verdict buzz: Kardashian weighs in.” Well, it’s official: Everybody has an opinion on it.
It's safe to conclude most folks believe Casey Anthony is guilty. So, she’s free, but what she'll always have to deal with is that larger court, which requires a lesser burden of proof. No matter what she does from now on, she’ll have a place in that notorious category of individuals perceived as being guilty even though they were found not guilty in an court.
Roger Clemens has begun his trial on perjury charges in connection with his alleged use of performance enhancing substances. Obviously, what Anthony and Clemens are accused of are millions of miles apart. The former is a sad and terrible tragedy involving an innocent child. The latter is just a dopey baseball matter.
But the court is the same. That vast and skeptical audience is out there, waiting for both sides to present their cases. The court of public opinion will render its verdict on Clemens with little regard to what actually happens inside that U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., and the verdict has already been rendered.
Like the other, far more heartbreaking case, the relatively inconsequential Clemens dispute hinges on behavior. In the court of public opinion, there is little in the way of evidence that is inadmissible.
Take the secretly taped phone call in 2008 Clemens made in a discussion with Brian McNamee, his former trainer who is his key accuser. Clemens and his lawyer, Rusty Hardin, arranged to record McNamee in the hopes of tripping him up. Instead, it was a big bust, and McNamee said nothing incriminating. Yet Clemens and his lawyer trotted it out in public with an “Aha!” flourish anyway, as if the public would somehow make the leap from McNamee’s personal and money woes to Clemens’ exoneration.
What came across more indelibly from that was a sense of desperation from Clemens’ camp, not to mention a conniving nature.
There is also the alleged affair he had with country star Mindy McCready, which reportedly began when she was 15 and he was 28. He did the public-relations version of a double switch: He came out and said, “This relationship has been twisted and distorted far beyond reality,” but then added the old, “. . . I have made mistakes in my personal life for which I am sorry.”
It certainly opens the door in the court of public opinion for the possibility that, if he cheated for 10 years on his wife, he could have cheated with steroids.
And there is also body language, his general arrogance. Remember, he met with Congress in 2008 and was reminded he was not required to testify before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that was investigating drug use in baseball. But Clemens insisted, and under oath he declared that he never took steroids or HGH.
His appearance on “60 Minutes” did him no favors. Neither did his inclusion on the Mitchell Report. Or the revelation before Congress that Clemens’ wife took HGH. Or the allegation that Clemens tried to influence statements by his family’s former nanny.
It eventually became Clemens’ word versus that of McNamee — and Andy Pettitte, Clemens’ former teammate, whose testimony will support McNamee’s version of events.
Hardin revealed his strategy this week. He will argue that McNamee cooked up an extortion plot in order to force Clemens to hire him. That sounds far-fetched, almost laughable. Will it work? Maybe. As we have seen lately, there’s no predicting what will happen in a court of law.
But such an approach only strengthens the case against Clemens in the court of public opinion. It suggests that Clemens has enough money to hire a shrewd and folksy attorney whose creativity has no limit. If Clemens is successful in U.S. District Court, it will be another opportunity for legal experts to roll their eyes, and for average Americans to shake their heads in disbelief.
If Clemens is acquitted, he will celebrate, and declare triumphantly that he was right all along. He will use the victory as vindication. He will point to it as proof that he was clean all along, and that he did nothing unnatural to resurrect his baseball career after then-Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette determined in 1996 that he was entering the “twilight of his career” and let him walk.
Yet like the recent Casey Anthony case has illustrated, the proceedings continue even after the final gavel, and even after the last analyst has opined on them before moving on to the next sensational case introduced by the 24-hour news cycle.
If Roger Clemens beats the rap, he’ll avoid jail. What he won’t be able to get away from are the cynical stares. He won’t avoid the opinions of many baseball fans who have heard the evidence and have rendered a verdict in their own heads. And when his case comes before the Baseball Hall of Fame, it’s likely he’ll be treated like many others of his era: a hung jury, keeping him in permanent limbo.
The court of public opinion never adjourns.