Final notes on the Comcast trial'
April 19, 2001
It's important to remember, and easy to forget, that court trials are not academic exercises about which side has the most clever lawyers. In the end, it's not about strategy or one-upmanship, winning or losing.
It's about people's lives.
Kary Graham and Wayne Raley, acquitted last week on all counts in an alleged conspiracy to defraud Comcast, say the federal prosecution has been a four-year nightmare. They are anxious now to pay their legal fees and resume their lives.
Kim Gianakos was convicted of one count of mail fraud. On Monday, we learned she plans to close Gianakos Associates by the end of the month.
Eight people are employed full-time at Gianakos Associates. The award-winning agency has more than 20 clients, all of whom will need to replace her services. The ripple effect will also take in non-profit fund-raising efforts like the American Cancer Society's "Relay for Life," for which Gianakos has routinely provided free marketing services.
C.D. "Bubba" Newell was convicted of all counts against him conspiracy to commit wire/mail fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money-laundering, 12 counts of money-laundering and three counts of income tax evasion.
His family was in the courtroom when the verdict was read. There was a gasp, and the tears began to fall. Newell's son faced a choice. He must have known when he came to Lauderdale County to testify that he would be served with an indictment charging him with conspiracy to sell cocaine.
I am not suggesting a tragedy has occurred; Newell and Gianakos were convicted by a very thoughtful and deliberate jury. I only remark that there is nothing to celebrate in the fall of any among us.
Final trial notes
Several times during the three-week Comcast trial, I reported that attorney Charlie Wright also represents Kary Graham in a lawsuit against Comcast filed in Lauderdale County Circuit Court. That case has now been transferred to Chancery Court, and Wright says he will push for an early trial date.
The suit asks the court to compel Comcast to pay $700,000 to Graham and Company. Co-counsel Robert Dreyfus said Wednesday that total includes $289,000 in sales invoices, $300,000 in bonuses, about $90,000 in interest and the balance in attorneys' fees. The invoices are dated after Comcast's internal audit in August 1996 and before Graham's contract was terminated in January 1997.
Most people were complimentary of The Meridian Star's trial coverage. Two people expressed concern that the "trial notes" section of each story seemed to trivialize a serious matter. I often include trial notes in court reports, and that is not their intent. They are meant to provide explanations and information that might not otherwise make it into the story and to humanize what is essentially an impersonal and highly formalized proceeding. This is a central newsroom lesson: Stories aren't about programs, proposals, votes, hearings or trials. They are about people.
Speaking of people, Newell's wife, Catherine, wants the readers to know the $60,000 cabinets were for David Van Colvin's house, not her house.
A sentencing hearing for Newell and Gianakos has been scheduled for June 22 in U.S. District Court in Jackson. Federal courts work with a complicated set of guidelines, and have less latitude than Circuit Courts in determining sentences. Appeals are probable in both cases.
The appeal process, however, cannot begin until after the hearing at which point Newell and Gianakos will probably be taken into custody and transferred to a federal penitentiary. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office said it is rare, but not unheard of, for defendants to remain free pending appeal.
The U.S. Attorney's prosecution team left Meridian with far less than they had hoped for. They alleged a conspiracy involving five people, with former Comcast-Primestar regional manager David Van Colvin as the "man in the middle" directing the activities of his co-conspirators.
What they got was a conspiracy between only Colvin and Newell. Raley and Graham were completely cleared. While she was found guilty of one count of mail fraud, Gianakos was acquitted of both charges involving conspiracy.
As of this writing, Colvin's sentencing hearing has not been scheduled. He pleaded guilty in 1999 to conspiracy to commit wire/mail fraud, mail fraud and income tax evasion.
It must keep attorney Frank Trapp awake at night wondering whether he gave Gianakos good advice in August 1995, when she consulted him about the billing practices requested by Colvin. Would things have been different if he had suggested a face-to-face meeting with senior Comcast officials?
Several people have asked why Henry Palmer represented both Raley and Newell. The short answer is, "because they wanted me to." Palmer said Tuesday that there was no conflict in representing both clients. "Bubba's defense was David Colvin is a liar.' If Colvin had been a rich man like he told Bubba he was, there would have been nothing illegal about anything Bubba did."
And finally, Wayne Raley says he doesn't have an American Express card and has plans to continue not having one in the future.
Suzanne Monk is managing editor of The Meridian Star. Call her at 693-1551, extension 3229, or e-mail her at email@example.com.