Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Prosecutors Blast Wecht's "Relentlessly Dishonest Onslaught"

U.S. Attorney Buchanan & Doctor Wecht

Here are some highlights from the government's latest brief opposing a Dr. Cyril Wecht's motion for dismissal of the indictment against him.  This brief responds to the the defense claims of misconduct by the prosecution.  In the conclusion, the government again hints that it may seek a jury from outside the Pittsburgh area for the second trial.

It begins with this:

There is a risk for those who have been subjected to the full extent of Wecht's ongoing campaign of obfuscation, misdirection, half-truth, misstatement and outright falsehood -- a risk of becoming numb to the repeated false assertions or, worse yet, ceasing to be vigilant in the face of the relentlessly dishonest onslaught. However, the government will labor, yet again, to correct the record that Wecht's truthless motion would otherwise distort beyond recognition.

...contains these comments:

...Wecht's accusations are not only false, but knowingly so...

...Yet sensational accusations like these make good copy, regardless of their truth....

....On what basis do Wecht's lawyers, as officers of the Court, level this serious accusation of prosecutorial misconduct? No basis whatsoever. Wecht and his lawyers have made it out of whole cloth. It is a fabrication, nothing more.

....Wecht's based entirely upon lies.

....I. Wecht's Entire Motion is Based Upon Falsehoods....

...The argument is based upon several outright fallacies....

...II. Wecht's Eight Other False Accusations of Prosecutorial Misconduct....

...The lack of truth in these accusations is apparent to anyone familiar with these proceedings. One is left to wonder, yet again, for whose benefit is Wecht writing?...

...and ends with this:


Perhaps nothing can preserve the public's right to a fair trial in this division of the Western District of Pennsylvania, in light of Wecht's relentless campaign of publicity and slander by false court filings. Yet this latest motion hits new lows -- including repulsive allegations of anti-Semitism, utterly false allegations of prosecutorial misconduct, and other baseless ad hominem attacks -- and should be denied.

Mary Beth Buchanan
United States Attorney
by: s/Stephen S. Stallings
Assistant U.S. Attorney



Q&A Raw Video: Wecht Jurors Speak Out

The Pittsburgh Channel now has the raw video of the news conference by five jurors from the Wecht trial. Click here to watch.

Here are some quotes from my notes.

Juror Kimberly:

• "I felt strongly that the prosecution did not present a strong enough case that there was a plan or a scheme or intent to defraud."

• "I felt completely devalued, that the time and energy and everything I had put in the trial just flew out the window before we were even dismissed from the room." (On the quick decision by prosecutors to put Wecht on trial a second time.)

• "Now I feel that there definitely could be some political motivations behind what's happening with Doctor Wecht."

Juror Dawn:
• "We all sorted through tons and tons of the evidence, and we just not find any intent to defraud."

• "We truly did try, we went though count by count by count, just went through that barrage of paper, and it just was not there."

• "I feel it's politically motivated. There was a day in testimony where (defense attorney) Mr. McDevitt did not get a word in edgewise, objections just kept coming. And it really made me sit back and think, 'what is it that they're not allowing to come out to us?'"

• "The defense was not able to get a lot of information out to us, a lot of it was stopped, and I just feel that he somewhat sided with the government." (Referring to Judge Schwab.)

• "Just in the end, it was not enough to prove guilt."

Juror Linda:
• "I don't know if politically motivated or not, but it seemed to me that the motivations were certainly less than pure. There was something behind it other than seeking justice." (On the motive of the prosecution.)

• " I felt uncomfortable that the call was made by the FBI, as opposed to somebody directly from the prosecution. I just felt that -- by it's nature -- was intimidating." (On the prosecution's use of FBI agents to contact jurors at home to set up post-trial questioning.)

• "I believe that services were provided in good faith and the county was served in good faith." (On Wecht's work as coroner.)

• "I would do anything that it took if I could have an effect on there not being a future trial. I just feel that it would be punitive -- that there's not a chance that another jury would find differently than we did."

Juror Bruce:
• "With all the witnesses that came forth that had immunity, you would have have thought there'd be somebody that would have dropped a bomb or had the smoking gun."

• "There was no intent for him to defraud the citizens of Allegheny County or his private clients."

Jury Foreman Bob:
• "I'm thinking to myself, geez, you had three years to find somebody and this is the best you could do? I mean, they weren't even upset." (Referring to testimony by the alleged victims among Wecht's private clients.)

• "I definitely feel it's a waste of taxpayer's money. I don't understand how they can find a juror that would convict him, to have twelve people to be unanimous."

• "Definitely politics, now that it's all said and done. Not so much that I thought that during the trial, but especially after you think about how quickly (Assistant U.S. Attorney) Mr. Stallings got up and said we're retrying him, how quickly they had a date set."

• "I was shocked. I was surprised that he would make that decision already without even knowing what the counts (of guilty and not guilty votes by jurors) were."

• "I kind of felt it was a slap in the face. that it was almost like you know, we don't even care what time you put into it or what you thought. It wasn't what we want to hear, so we're doing it again."

• "Drop it and walk away." (His advice to prosecutors.)



Friday, April 25, 2008

Hart's 2 for 1 Shot At Altmire & Obama

• The New York Times picks up the theme, with a western Pennsylvania reference late in its story.
• The link to the Post article is now repaired.

Republicans are spotlighting Melissa Hart's anti-Barack Obama web-only ad for the national media, but Hart is not calling media attention to it locally.

The Washington Post reports "Republican party committees and candidates have launched a series of ads this week linking Democratic candidates for lower offices to controversies surrounding Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, signaling that a racially tinged campaign may lie ahead, should the senator from Illinois secure the Democratic nomination."

More from The Post:

In western Pennsylvania, a GOP challenger unveiled an ad on a campaign Web site accusing freshman Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) of defending Obama after he told donors in San Francisco that white working-class voters "cling" to gun rights and religion because they are "bitter."

"Barack Obama said our bitterness makes us cling to our religion, and our guns. This was simply an insult. But maybe the biggest insult of all is how Jason Altmire continues to defend Barack Obama," says Melissa Hart, the former representative who was ousted by Altmire in 2006 and faces a rematch this fall.

...and The Atlantic Online:

Former Rep. Melissa Hart is testing the effect of Sen. Obama's "bitter" comments against Rep. Jason Altmire in PA's 4th congressional district with this web ad.

HART: I'm Melissa Hart and I approve this message.

ANNC: Barack Obama described small town, hardworking, God fearing, Second Amendment-respecting families of western Pennsylvania as bitter. Barack Obama said our bitterness makes us cling to our religion, and our guns. This was simply an insult. But maybe the biggest insult of all is how Jason Altmire continues to defend Barack Obama. Jason Altmire. Just how much of the liberal Kool-Aid did he drink?

The Post also reports:

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee dismissed the building wave of ads against Obama, or even against Clinton, if she's the nominee. "This is just more of the same from National Republicans so disconnected they believe there has been great economic progress under George Bush," said DCCC spokesman Doug Thornell. "The reality is the American people simply don't trust Republicans and won't buy their false attacks launched from the gutter against strong Democratic candidates with independent records of getting things done."



Wecht Case Intermezzo

Here are some selected pages from prosecution and defense briefs filed this week in the case of former coroner Doctor Cyril Wecht.

These provide a window on some exchanges between the opponents as they prepare for the planned second trial.

For each of the selections, click to enlarge.

First, from the prosecution:

From the defense:


Monday, April 21, 2008

Sisyphus & PA Open Records

"Sisyphus, in Greek mythology, was a king punished in Tartarus by being cursed to roll a huge boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll down again, and to repeat this throughout eternity."

A recent editorial in the Sentinel warns that a state agency is proposing to use Pennsylvania's new Open Records Law to more difficult to obtain, not less.

A provision covering the hundreds of local district courts across the state to take effect next year is intended to make access to public information more uniform. That means information publicly available in one local court wouldn't be under a blackout in another.

That's where a draft proposal by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts comes in...but apparently not in the way you might expect.

According to the Sentinel:

Court proposal a step back for public access

....The rules also propose giving courts as long as seven weeks before complying with a records request, limiting the number of documents that could be viewed in a day, requiring citizens to put their requests in writing and even restricting records access to certain days or times.

Clearly, this policy was developed strictly from the viewpoint of court personnel and not the public. These rules, if adopted, would be very convenient for them but ignore completely the spirit of open records law — namely, that the people have a right to keep an eye on the people’s business. And it’s not as if these courts have been burdened in the past by records requests or that they have any reason to expect a flood of requests under the new law. They haven’t and they don’t.

Making public a citizen’s arrest, charges, trial and the outcome is a protection for the defendant. In many parts of the world today, it is still possible for someone to be arrested in the dead of night, thrown in prison and never be seen again....

The state court system provides more information and a link for public comment on its website.



Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Dueling Billboard Subpoenas That Might Have Been

Dueling subpoenas and depositions could have marked the start of a long and messy legal battle involving City Council members, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, and Lamar Advertising. It appears that won't happen, thanks to a resolution of the conflict over the original permit for a large electronic billboard downtown. Here's a closer look at excerpts from the legal documents I covered in my Channel 4 Action News report. They show what that peacekeeping apparently averted.

In this post you'll find images of now-voided:

• Subpoena requests targeting Mayor Luke Ravensthal, Chief of Staff Yarone Zober, and URA Executive Director Patrick Ford, and

• Subpoena requests targeting communications with news organizations and with bloggers on the part of five City Council members.

These are the public records:

• subpoena and discovery motions from attorneys for City Council members Shields, Peduto, Kraus, and Burgess and subpoena and

• subpoena and discovery motions from attorneys for Lamar Advertising.

They were filed with the city Zoning Board this past week, before City Solicitor George Specter, attorneys for Lamar and attorneys for Councilman Dowd reached their agreement on how to resolve the dispute over the billboard permit.

Again, the subpoena requests and discovery motions are all now considered moot, but they would have covered a wide range of records:

• "including, but not limited to, correspondence, notes, letters, documents, emails, text messages, voice mails, cell phone records, calendars, receipts, check registers, calendars, log books message slips or other statements of correspondence) of communications", including many with "news organizations", "members of the press or blogs".

Note that the section dealing with communication with reporters and bloggers appears to have been much broader than the one that would have targeted only billboard related matters. It appears to have sought all "non-privileged records" of communications with reporters and bloggers.

First, click "Read More..." to expand the post and reveal the documents.

Then you can start clicking on each of the images to enlarge them to readable size.

(You can also click this permalink to see the entire post, images and all, in a separate window.)


From the filing by the attorney for Council members Shields, Peduto, Kraus, and Burgess:

From the filing by attorneys for Lamar Advertising:


Friday, April 18, 2008

Sirk's Attorney Calls E-Mail "Bogus"

There's a disturbance in the Burghosphere:
allegations of a "bogus" e-mail and of bloggers being used as "pawns".

The attorney for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's ex-press secretary Alecia Sirk claims that an e-mail attributed to Sirk by two Pittsburgh bloggers is a fake.

Not so, say the bloggers.

The anonymous blogger known as The Burgher of The Burgh Report provided me with a copy of an e-mail allegedly sent by Alecia Sirk to Bram Reichbaum of The Pittsburgh Comet. The bloggers offered it to refute suggestions that Reichbaum had threatened Sirk and her husband, URA Executive Director Pat Ford. In the disputed e-mail, the author sounds chatty, friendly, and not at all threatened. The e-mail says "thanks" and "pat and i both appreciate that you always come to us".

Ford is on paid leave while the state Ethics Commission investigates gifts that he and Sirk received from Lamar Advertising executive Jim Vlasach. Sirk resigned from her job in the wake of the revelation of the gifts. Ford describes Vlasach as his "best friend". Together, they negotiated the controversial permit which allowed Lamar advertising to begin erecting a large electronic billboard on Grant Street. Ford himself was the one who went to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review with word of the gifts; he did so after blogger Reichbaum privately questioned Sirk about some references to Vlasach in her own discontinued blog, Love of Chair. In one post, Sirk described her delight at getting a gift from Vlasach -- a surround-sound system.

The Trib reported on April 15th:

...Ford said he believes someone connected to the Housing Authority "mysteriously" resurrected his wife's defunct blog, LoveofChair, which detailed Ford's friendship with Vlasach.
He said blogger Bram Reichbaum called Sirk and threatened to release a copy of the blog publicly if she did not tell him about the surround-sound system.

First, let's look at the e-mail sent to me by The Burgher.

From: "The Burgher" [ E-mail removed for this post. ]
Date: April 15, 2008 1:04:30 AM EDT
Subject: Proof Bram did not threaten Sirk

The very threatening Bram Reichbaum ...

Check sirk's frightened post-interview email to bram.

(Sarcasm over).

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Bram Reichbaum [ E-mail removed for this post. ]
Date: Tue, Apr 15, 2008 at 12:43 AM
Subject: Fwd: Phone Tag
To: The Burgher [ E-mail removed for this post. ]

Here is a bit of our correspondence. It looks as though I couldn't have spoken with her until 2:30 or maybe 3:00. You may utilize this for anything.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: alecia sirk [ E-mail removed for this post. ]
Date: Mon, Apr 7, 2008 at 4:33 PM
Subject: Re: Phone Tag
To: Bram Reichbaum [ E-mail removed for this post. ]

Hi Bram-
Don't forget to email me the blog! I'd love to be able and sit around and read it when i'm 70!

thanks, and thanks for calling to ask me about those things. pat and i both appreciate that you always come to us and say HEY, what about this.

have a great day,



----- Original Message ----
From: Bram Reichbaum [ E-mail removed for this post. ]
To: alecia sirk [ E-mail removed for this post. ]
Sent: Monday, April 7, 2008 2:28:12 PM
Subject: Phone Tag

I'm trying to all you back. "All circuits are busy now" for the past two hours, and I don't want to bother you on your cell phone.

Gimme a call at [Phone number removed for this post] and I'll pick up.


Bram Reichbaum affirmed that the above e-mails were authentic when I contacted him. He had forwarded it to The Burgher, who passed it along to me.

Next, I contacted Alecia Sirk using the same address that appears in the disputed e-mail.

----- Original Message ----
From: Bob Mayo [ E-mail removed for this post. ]
To: alecia sirk [ E-mail removed for this post. ]
Sent: Tuesday, April 15, 2008 10:26:41 PM
Subject: Re: Missed Interview Opportunity


I wanted to check this with you.

Is the following your e-mail to Bram Reichbaum on Monday after his conversation with you about the entry in your blog?


Bob M

Her response:

From: alecia sirk [ E-mail removed for this post. ]
Date: April 16, 2008 10:48:40 AM EDT
To: Bob Mayo [ E-mail removed for this post. ]
Cc: law fisher [ E-mail removed for this post. ]
Subject: Re: Missed Interview Opportunity

Hi Bob-

My attorney, Lawrence Fisher, would be happy to speak to you about this issue.

This is his cell phone number: [Number removed for this post].

thank you,


Today I spoke by phone with Lawrence Fisher, attorney for Pat Ford and Alecia Sirk, and asked him if the e-mail is authentic.

His answer:

• "No. The e-mail is bogus. It's part of the smear campaign in which the bloggers have allowed themselves to be used as pawns."

• "The whole story is ridiculous."

• "The idea that a multi-million dollar project could somehow be swayed by a nominal gift is ridiculous."

• "The continued exploitation of this matter is not productive."

Finally, here are the responses from The Burgher and Bram Reichbaum to the comments of Mr. Fisher.

First, The Burgher:

Thanks, Bob.

I'd like to talk to Bram first, but it seems incredible to suggest that someone hacked into Sirk's email account and sent Bram an email collaborating their conversation before any blog posts or subsequent MSM coverage would inform 3rd parties of the event.

So, in other words, they're claiming Bram is lying.

Actually, more than lying; they're claiming that Bram fabricated an entire email conversation with Sirk, and composed a fake email and sent it to me.

Unless their attorney is misinformed, these are desperate lies.

I'll let Bram discuss that with you, but on my end it seems ridiculous to me considering the number of conversations Bram and I have had where Bram expressed sympathy for Sirk. (I'll forward them).

Also, part of the "allegedly" fake Sirk email is collaborated by Bram's conversation with me (by GMAIL chat, if I remember correctly) around the time of the interview where he mentioned that Sirk thanked him for forwarding the PDF.

(This is off the record until Bram responds. I'm assuming he will assert the legitimacy of the emails. If not, please let me know.)

The Burgher later put the above comments on the record.

Next, Bram Reichbaum:


I assume you're talking about the e-mail in which Alecia asks for a copy of Love of Chair, and thanks me for coming to them with my questions?

Yes. Yes, that was authentic.

As a matter of fact, you may have noticed an "X" underneath the text of her e-mail, and above the body of my "phone tag" e-mail to her earlier in the day. That "X" is actually my placeholder for an quote she included underneath her message. Since it was italicized and seemed personal, I withheld it from distribution to you and the Burgher, but if you think there will come a time when it is important to reveal, please let me know.

Burgher, go ahead and forward any relevant correspondence we've had about Sirk/Ford to Bob.


One footnote: the e-mail address in question does belong to Alecia Sirk. It's the personal Yahoo account from which she sent out the news release about Mayor Ravenstahl's endorsement of Senator Clinton. It's also -- as noted above-- the address from which she told me to contact attorney Fisher.



Thursday, April 17, 2008

Billboard Back Story: Brewing Controversies

[Looking for my "Media Debate Blowback" post? Click here.]

There's an intriguing back-story that led up to the peacemaking between Lamar Advertising and Pittsburgh Council members who challenged the legality of their permit to erect an electronic billboard downtown. My Channel 4 Action News report lays out details. I obtained copies of legal filings that reveal a battle of subpoenas and discovery motions, averted just in time.

Here's the text of my TV story.

If this agreement on the Lamar electronic billboard going back through channels hadn't been reached, legal documents show council members were pressing for testimony under subpoena by:

• city URA Executive Director Pat Ford, who struck the deal,
• his Lamar executive best friend Jim Vlasach, with whom he negotiated.
• and Mayor Ravenstahl's Executive Secretary Yarone Zober.
That won't happen now. But the State Ethics Commission is still reviewing gifts received by Ford and Ford's wife -- Mayor Ravenstahl's former press secretary Alecia Sirk -- from Vlasach. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl: "This process in the infancy stages and we'll see where it goes. I'm not concerned about that at this point, and welcome the investigation at the state ethics commission and look forward to their findings."
Legal documents show council members were asking the zoning board to subpoena all records -- quote--

"pertaining to gifts, remuneration, or 'in kind' services provided by Lamar to any official or employee of the City of Pittsburgh..."
The basis?
• The documents say -- quote-- "Mayor Ravenstahl, Mr. Ford, and Mr. Vlasach are all believed to be personal friends."
• The discovery was targeted to -- quote -- "consider whether Lamar applied improper influence to these public officials with respect to the led application approval".
Work on the Lamar electronic billboard is stopped until it clears the normal planning and zoning public process. Meanwhile, published reports [by the PG's Rich Lord] say two different, out-of-town companies also got approval for billboards through Ford without the normal approval process. Mayor Ravenstahl confirms he stopped by Ford's dinner meeting with those execs.
Ravenstahl: "To say hello."
Q: "You just said 'hi' and left?"
A: "No, I mean we just communicated and Pat mentioned that they were in town and I went up to say hello, just like I talk with anybody that's interested in doing business with Pittsburgh. "
Two Oregon-based Liberty Pacific media execs at that dinner meeting later contributed a total of $25,000 to Ravenstahl's campaign.
Q: "Any campaign aspects discussed in the meeting?"
Mayor Ravenstahl: "No."
Q: "Did those donations in any way influence how the their billboards got approved?"
A: "No. I had nothing to do with the approval of the billboards."



Media Debate Blowback


[Here's the link to the Washington Post critique of ABC News handling of the debate. Andrew Stockey gets answers from ABC News President David Westin at this link. My Channel 4 Action News report on the debate blowback is on The Pittsburgh Channel. The link to Attytood is also now repaired.]

I'm scanning the web this morning for journalists' critiques of the performances in last night's debate -- not of the candidates, but of the questioners.

Let's start with this open letter from Philly Daily News "Attytood" blogger Will Bunch. He says:

"I am still angry at what I just witnessed, so angry that it's hard to even type accurately because my hands are shaking. Look, I know that "media criticism" -- especially when it's one journalist speaking to another -- tends to be a genteel, colleagial thing, but there's no genteel way to say this. "

• Editor & Publisher has a quick critique by Greg Mitchell headlined "Clinton-Obama Debate: ABC Decides Top Issues Facing Americans Are Gaffes, Flag Pins and '60s Radicals". He writes:

"In perhaps the most embarrassing performance by the media in a major presidential debate in years, ABC News hosts Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos focused mainly on trivial issues as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama faced off in Philadelphia."

• Andrew Sullivan writes on his Daily Dish blog about what he calls the ABC News "Freak Show". He asks:

"...don't you miss the League Of Women Voters?"

• As I'm writing this, there are nearly 11-thousand viewer comments about the debate on the ABC News website. [Note: twelve hours later it was 17,000+ and counting.]

Later today, I hope to have a link to Channel 4 Action News anchor Andrew Stockey's interview with David Westin, the President of ABC News.



Wednesday, April 9, 2008

City Government Shakeup

Alecia Sirk and Pat Ford

UPDATE: Video.

he breaking news tonight is a shakeup in city government involving a power couple in Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's administration.

Here's the text of my live report on Channel 4 Action News at 5:30 PM. The Pittsburgh Channel now has the video online.

City URA Executive Director Pat Ford is part of Mayor Ravenstahl's inner circle and has held a variety of top posts. His wife Alicia Sirk is the mayor's press secretary. They say their friendship with the Lamar advertising executive goes back some time and has nothing to do with the billboard deal.

But the Mayor's chief of staff has just informed us that Alecia Sirk resigned today.
It's in relation to the issues in the story you are about to see..

The URA's Pat Ford has requested a temporary paid leave of absence -- granted, effective immediately -- to allow a review by the appropriate agencies into the gift matters in the report you're going to see now.


This is city official Pat Ford -- who struck the deal that bypassed Pittsburgh's permit process to allow Lamar Advertising to put up an electronic billboard on the Grant Street Transportation Center now being built.

His wife Alecia Sirk -- Mayor Ravenstahl's press secretary -- blogged about the couple's friendship with Lamar executive Jim Vlasach a couple of years back.

She calls her husband 'our hero'.., and wrote JV -- that's the Lamar exec -- had gifted her with a sound system.

• "...The best part was that i got a christmas gift! jv brought me surround sound for my dvd player!"

"it is like knock you over one of the best things evah."

Local political blogs The Burgh Report and The Pittsburgh Comet got a tip about it, even though the original files are no longer on the net.

Blogger Bram Reichbaum: "we feel that the appearance of an impropriety is clear. There's certainly enough out there for a perception of impropriety. That's not for us to determine."

Ford is not available for comment, but told our news partner, the Tribune-Review:

• "The gifts ... are of nominal value."

• "I've been in public service long enough now to know what's appropriate and what's inappropriate behavior."

• ".. I also am professional enough and mature enough to know when to separate business with a friendship."

Sirk isn't available for comment today, but she told Blogger Bram Reichbaum that "she didn't regard anything that she had written about in her blog as inappropriate and there was nothing inappropriate about the relationship."

[Back on camera]

The mayor's chief of staff Yarone Zober says the State Ethics commission will review the controversy.

Published reports quote Ford as confirming repeated gifts from his friend,including cigars, ties, and other gifts, which he says are of nominal value.
The Lamar executive did not return our call for comment.
Lamar is suing city council members who are challenging the done deal.
Reporting live, Bob Mayo, Channel 4 Action News.

Later this evening, Joanna Doven of the mayor's office issued this news release:


(PITTSBURGH) April 9, 2008 Mayor Luke Ravenstahl announced today a series of personnel developments.

The Mayor has accepted the resignation of press secretary, Alecia Sirk, effective immediately.

Additionally, and in response to a series of media announcements today, Pat Ford, executive director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, has asked for and been granted a leave of absence. Mr. Ford has further requested a full review of the issues raised relative to the exchange of gifts by the appropriate agencies.

Mr. Ford’s board seat on the Housing Authority will be filled by Fred Frank.

For additional information related to these personnel developments, please call Yarone Zober at [phone number]. All other media inquires are to be directed to Joanna Doven.


Mistrial Day Zero: The Wecht Trial Reloaded

Welcome to any readers following my Pittsburgh Channel blogging of the Wecht trial who are new to my personal blog.

The mistrial brought an end to 35 working trial days...ten weeks in court...including 53 hours of deliberations over the course of three of those weeks. There are blog entries listed day by day at this link. The Pittsburgh Channel has video of my WTAE Channel 4 Action News report, as well some raw video of Wecht's defense team.

Here are some quotes from Dr. Cyril Wecht and his attorneys made following the mistrial declaration.

Dr. Cyril Wecht:

• "The toll on my family has been horrendous."
• "We've been living under this cloud for all that time. The emotional drain has been absolutely unbelievable."
• "...the drain emotionally, personally, professionally and financially.."

• "How much I have been hurt, I'm sure that what I know of represents the tip of the iceberg, because most people are not going to call you and say I was going to consult you, but I can't."

• "We are going to continue to do whatever is necessary. I don't say that in a bold fashion with braggadocio. I'm just telling you what has to be done will be done."

• "If I have to spend the rest of my years, then so will it be."

• "We know where we're going and we know what we have to do. And we know where truth lies and we know where justice resides, and I'm sure that we shall reach those objectives."

• "We recognize what the ideology as well as the continuing pathogenesis of this sordid saga is, and there's nothing to be happy or comforted about."

Former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, member of the Wecht legal team:

• "A nickle-dime prosecution when there is rampant crime, terrorism, other kinds of threats that affect the American people."

• "These charges clearly were not worthy of being brought in a federal criminal court."

• "The government has utterly failed to prove their case. And it's time in my view for these charges to be dismissed and for Dr. Wecht to be able to get on with his life."

• "The allegations of political influence in this case, about which I testified before the United States Congress -- the judge prohibited any inquiry into that in the course of this case."

Jerry McDevitt, Wecht defense attorney:

• "I thought what happened in that courtroom today was an utter disgrace. On every level, no matter how your measure it, it was one of the most bizarre endings to one of the most unfair trials ever conducted in Pittsburgh history."

• "To announce a retrial of Cyril Wecht this quickly was designed to make sure he would not have one day of respite from what has become a vindictive prosecution. Everybody in Pittsburgh knows it now."

• " 'Get ready for this again, Doctor Wecht.'  That is vindictive, that is mean spirited, and that is against everything United States attorneys in this country are supposed to be about."

• "It's hard to beat people that won't quit. We're not going to quit. Period. They didn't beat us this time. This makes us want to beat them even more the next time."

• "I think a federal judge ought to read the constitution, not cookie recipes.  Period."

• "Plying jurors with cookies and stuff like was done in this case. It's just one of the many, many irregularities that accompanied this trial, but sometimes I felt like I was at Sara Lee's Bakery, rather than a federal courtroom."

U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan (written statement):

• "We are committed to eliminating the culture of corruption that prevails when officials at the highest levels abuse the public trust. Allegations of wrongdoing by public officials can be both challenging to investigate and to prove. A deadlocked jury means only that the jury was unable to reach a unanimous decision on the charges presented. The government bears the burden of proving, beyond a reasonable doubt, each element of every count charged."



Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Google Robots Ate My Blog

They didn't eat my blog exactly, but they had it locked in their jaws for the past week and wouldn't let go. They're well-intentioned robots...but they kept me from posting here for a while.

Scene from "Forbidden Planet"

Last week, I got a troubling (and at the same time charming) e-mail from Google's Blogger service which hosts this blog:

This is a message from the Blogger team.
Your blog, at, has been identified as a potential spam blog. For an explanation of what spam blogs are, please see Blogger Help:

You will not be able to publish posts to your blog until we review your site and confirm that it is not a spam blog. To request a review, please fill out the form found here: [personalized link]

We will take a look at your blog and unlock it within four business days. Please note that if we do not hear from you within 20 days, we will remove your blog. If this blog does not belong to you, then you do not have to do anything. Any other blogs you may have will not be affected.

Since you are an actual person reading this, your blog is probably not spam. We find spam by using an automated classifier. Automatic spam detection is inherently fuzzy, and occasionally a blog is flagged incorrectly. We sincerely apologize for this erroneous result. By using this kind of system, however, we can dedicate more storage, bandwidth, and engineering resources to users like you instead of to spammers.

Thank you for your understanding and for your help in our spam-fighting efforts.


The Blogger Team

Imagine, I've been blogging play-by-play of the Wecht trial over at The Pittsburgh Channel for two months, and now -- as the end approached -- I feared I was going to be locked out from my personal blog here. When I tried updating The Busman's Holiday, these are the messages I've been getting...

[Click to enlarge.]

... until this evening. Tonight I made an urgent plea for help to some media contacts I tracked down at Google, who were kind enough to expedite my release from robot custody.

So, here I am again.