The McGee Prosecution: A Case For Cameras In The Federal Courtroom
Its really unfortunate that the Federal courts continue to refuse to allow cameras in the courtroom. As a result of this antiquated practice, MIlwaukee residents are missing the opportunity to see and hear first-hand the case against former Alderman Michael McGee Jr.
For a variety of reasons, that's too bad.
For some, the trial has arguably lost a bit of it's interest as a result of McGee's defeat in the April election. Nevertheless, he still remains a lightening rod for the community. Regardless of the evidence presented against him, some of his apologists will undoubtedly always believe that he was a victim of the "racist power structure". For many of these people, no amount of evidence will change their opinion.
For almost everyone else though, it's too bad that we won't have a chance to see the witnesses first-hand. It's too bad we won't have a chance to hear the wiretap evidence as it is played in court. It's too bad that we'll have to rely on second-hand reports about the arguments of counsel.
The government's case against McGee is being presented by my former colleague Joe Wall. Wall left the U.S. Attorneys Office about seven years ago to become a Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge. He returned to the U.S. Attorney's Office last Fall and immediately took over the McGee prosecution. I'm biased because I worked closely with him for years - but believe me when I tell you that Wall is a pretty darn good prosecutor.
The case is being tried before Federal Judge Charles Clevert. Up until now, Clevert's most high-profile trial was probably the Federal civil rights prosecution of four Milwaukee Police officers in connection with the beating of Frank Jude. Deservedly, Clevert earned high marks for the way he handled the case.
The State prosecution of the Frank Jude Jr. cops was, to put it mildly, a prosecutive disaster. Unfortunately, since State courts allow proceedings to be televised, the public had an opportunity to witness the spectacle first-hand. It's equally unfortunate the the public never had an opportunity to witness the masterful Federal prosecution that followed (and led to convictions).
In the same vein, due to electronic access to the courtroom, the public has already had an opportunity to get a first-hand look at how the State prosecution of McGee was initially botched. It's really too bad that we won't get a chance to see how a really good prosecutor, trying a case before a really good judge, presents a really strong case!
I've always said that McGee's real problems centered around the Federal charges. The first couple of witnesses appear to underscore that point - and the jury hasn't even heard any of the wiretaps yet. Nevertheless, who knows what a jury will decide when all the evidence is presented to them?
Regardless of the eventual verdict, I personally think that the McGee trial is going to be an outstanding example of how the system is supposed to work. It's just too bad that nobody is going to get to see it.