As if Paul Bergrin needed another reason to appeal his conviction…
According to an article published online this morning by the Star Ledger, a juror by the name of Tad Hershorn went on record yesterday to discuss his role as a federal juror in the recently concluded trial of criminal defense attorney Paul Bergrin, who was convicted Monday afternoon on all 23 counts for which he was standing trial in a federal courtroom in Newark. The verdict was the culmination of a federal investigation that began in 2001 into allegations that Bergrin was using his Newark-based law firm as a guise for his criminal enterprise – an enterprise later accused of the most serious of crimes including Murder, Conspiracy to Commit Murder, Witness Tampering, Drug Trafficking, and Racketeering.
Hershorn initially admitted that he had read certain articles published in 2009 regarding the arrest of an allegedly greedy and dangerous lawyer accused of plotting the killing of witnesses in cases pending against his clients. He later realized, when he showed up in January of this year for federal jury duty, that the lawyer he had read about was Paul Bergrin, and he would be asked to serve as a juror on the trial that would see Bergrin face those very accusations – and many more.
Hershon, an archivist for the Institute of Jazz Studies, later called the case a “zoo,” and talked about the scope of witnesses that were paraded through the courtroom during the trial, “all the way from felons convicted of serious offenses to the murderer of a federal witness.”
Most alarming was Hershon’s repeated reference to the mounting testimony, documents, and tapes put forth by the federal prosecutors that created a pattern of criminal activity which, according to Hershon, in its totality, was impossible to deny. “I think the accumulation of evidence and witnesses and exhibits and the presentation was important…in terms of blending into an overall scope of the story,” said Hershon.
This statement appears, at a minimum, to support an inference that jurors did not heed instructions to consider the evidence as it pertained to each count of the indictment separately, and not be swayed by the perceived totality of the evidence.
Bergrin’s court-appointed supporting counsel, Lawrence Lustberg, had voiced the same sentiment following the announcement of the verdict. It will likely be a key issue on appeal for Bergrin – that it was critical error for US District Judge Dennis Cavanaugh not to sever out certain counts of the indictment and try them separately.
Lustberg echoed his concerns after the publication of Hershon’s interview. “When I hear a juror talking about the accumulation of evidence, it makes me extremely concerned that the jurors did not follow the judge’s instructions that each count must be considered separately,” Lustberg said, reiterating that the accumulation of evidence – 8 years worth of a government investigation – would be near impossible for a jury to ignore. “That was the reason that we moved for a severance.”
Less critical but still alarming were Hershon’s comments about the concerns that he had for his own safety in being tasked with judging Bergrin and the credibility of various felon-witnesses that were called to testify. “I had mixed feelings,” Hershon said, “I don’t know if I want some of these people sitting around for three months getting to know what I look like.” Hershon also managed to comment on the credibility of Bergrin himself, calling him a “somewhat seedy, swachbuckling lawyer” and criticizing him for representing himself. “As smart as he is…you cannot totally disguise who you are.”
Yet, despite the breadth of the evidence and the complexity of the charges against Bergrin, the jury was unanimous on all 23 counts in less than 2 days. With the insight now provided by Hershon’s interview, there are many questions swirling…
Had Hershon, and perhaps other jurors, pre-judged the case
Is it possible that the jury began discussing their verdict before deliberations formally began
And, most importantly, did the jury disregard instructions to consider each count separately and, instead, decide Bergrin’s fate based on the “totality of the evidence ”
We will likely never get definitive answers those questions, but one question will inevitably be answered…
Will Bergrin’s conviction stand Stay tuned…
For more information on the Hershon interview, see the Star-Ledger article entitled, “Juror in Bergrin trial talks about verdict and a case he’ll never forget.”