Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Vigil Mistrial: Slammin' Sam Delivers; He Only Gets One Juror, But One Is All You Need; In-Depth Trial Analysis & The Political Fallout Is Next 

Call him over-the-top, flamboyant, maybe even arrogant. But call him right. Because he was. In one of the most significant victories in recent years for a New Mexico defense attorney and his highest of high-profile clients, Slammin' Sam Bregman delivered. Sure, it was a mistrial, not an acquittal. And he only got one juror to go with him, but one is all you need. Did anyone who looked at the videotape of ex-Treasurer Robert Vigil taking 11 Grand in cash from an "investment adviser" really think this thing wasn't a done deal? That Robert from Ribera would not be sent up the Rio Grande for a long vacation? Hardly anyone.

The doubting Thomases could have filled the Pit when Bregman went all-in and defiantly called the government on the carpet by refusing to put on a defense and sending the case directly to the jury. But the Thomases turned into Sammies as news of Vigil's reprieve whisked across our Enchanted Land Monday afternoon faster than the 50 mph winds that simultaneously raked the state.

"Sam should be congratulated for a major victory," declared our Alligator attorney who told blog readers a week ago the no-defense decision was a bad call. "He obviously knew the jury. It was a major gamble, but it paid off and he deserves credit," said the private attorney with prosecutorial experience. "But," he continued, "he realizes it's not over. The fact that only one juror stopped a guilty verdict will encourage the government to go for a quick retrial."

But will it? Former U.S. Attorney Norman Bay told KRQE-TV last night that the pressure is now on for both sides to come to a plea agreement. But getting Vigil to agree to any jail time, the minimum required to save the government from the ultimate embarrassment, may be as tough as getting people excited about the upcoming primary election. Not easy.


A lone male juror from Roswell refused to go for guilt, forcing U.S. Judge James Parker to throw in the towel and declare a mistrial after a week of on again off again deliberations. Republican U.S. Attorney David Iglesias signaled a retrial. When and if it will come was the second most discussed topic after Slammin' Sam's coup. And what about the political fallout?

"This is not good news for Democrats running for office. It means the scandal is going to continue to hang over their campaigns. It's like a cloud over their heads," offered a D ABQ South Valley Alligator.

Big Bill, never far behind the curve, also smelled danger and immediately released a statement that said despite the mistrial, the case has revealed significant corruption in New Mexico government that needs to be cleaned up.

R's, who all along have been making hay over Vigil and ex-Treasurer Michael Montoya, now get a new lease on life on the corruption issue, about the only one that seems to give them much traction these days.

Most of my Gators told me that they believe public opinion was reflected by the jury and its nearly unanimous opinion that Vigil was guilty on some of the counts. But in the political arena "reasonable doubt" does not apply as it does (and as it should) in the justice arena.


Not everyone was surprised by the jury deadlock. ABQ trial lawyer Marty Esquivel nailed it on your blog last week when he predicted jury selection would give Vigil and Bregman a big break. He expected more jurors to tilt Vigil's way but, again, one is enough. Insiders say Vigil paid a boatload of dough to professionally screen the jury picks. With each of the 24 corruption counts carrying a 20 year prison term, it turned out to be money well spent. Bregman and his tough-as-nails client are still one trial away from victory or ignominy, and it won't get any easier as the government now has a chance to close the loopholes if it goes for Trial of the Decade #2.

Our informed lawyer said a long delay before that next trial would benefit Vigil as "witnesses have more time to rethink or forget their original testimony." Also, finding a jury not exposed to the case could be difficult. If prosecutors to try to get another trial, he expects it within months. Yes, right in the thick of the election campaign.

There was some second guessing of Judge Parker and his decision not to keep the jury in longer, but not much. With the lone holdout determined not to change, keeping the panel around would have looked like a gang assault on the Vigil juror and not a very good example of American jurisprudence.

Defense supporters immediately scored the agreement that U.S. Attorney Iglesias struck with Michael Montoya which has him pleading to just one count for ripping off as much as $5 million. In exchange Montoya testified against Vigil. They argued that Montoya is the bigger fish to fry and trial evidence seemed to back them up.

Slammin' Sam and Ribera Robert have dodged the first bullet, but their mini-victory will do nothing to restore confidence in the New Mexican government. That will have to come from officeholders and candidates not under indictment.


NM Dem U.S. Rep. Tom Udall went to Congress in 1999 not 1997 as we blogged Monday when reporting on the power rankings of the state's delegation. Tom probably didn't mind us giving him the extra years of seniority, but only the voters can do that, not the bloggers.

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