Thursday, March 12, 2009

Law & Order “Bailout” Puts Greed on Trial (Recap & Review)

All Photos from NBC
This episode of Law & Order (NBC) “Bailout” dealt Michael Cutter a losing hand. The case involved a woman who was killed by a truck after fleeing a kidnapping. The big question is, was the kidnap real or staged? Clearly the episode took great pains to highlight the greedy and self absorbed CEO of a failed investment company, after all, it’s hard to avoid these people in the news these days. But, I think the show fails the viewers by giving us an equally shallow jury that acquitted the defendant based on their disdain for a man who really had nothing to do with the killing. I found myself wondering, at what point can an attorney get out of line during questioning that a judge can declare a mistrial? It seemed that despite the defense attorney’s many attempts to smear one of witnesses despite the sustained objections, even going so far as bringing the matter up in closing arguments with photos, that the judge would have felt that the defense attorney had crossed the line one to many times. I have always believed that in this day and age, that court cases should be digitally recorded with all the questions and answers where objections were sustained edited out. The jury can view the recording later or on a delay, for example, so they don’t hear material that the judge had ruled was not allowed. After all, it’s hard to forget something once you have heard it.

I also wonder at what point a judge can set aside a verdict. If jury nullification means that a jury delivered a verdict that was not arrived at by looking at the law, then why can’t the judge see this immediately and set aside the verdict?

I am also not sure why, if Ronnie was involved in a fake kidnapping and he admitted it was, wasn’t that technically a conspiracy, and wasn’t Blair killed in the course of that conspiracy? It wouldn’t be the first time the franchise has gone after someone for murder of someone who was in on a conspiracy with them. It seems like they tried that tactic recently but I can’t recall the episode. Either way, can Cutter take another bite at Ronnie by later charging him with conspiracy, or should he have been allowed to amend the charges based on new information given by Ronnie at trial after Ronnie claimed he and Blair planned to swindle the money from Gardner. Something was just missing with this part of the case, maybe that’s why Jack gave Cutter a little twist at the end, and reminding him that Cutter didn’t win.

The first half of the show seemed more solid than the second half, and it gave Anita a nice segment when she tried to convince the boys to tell the truth about Ronnie. I loved when Lupo showed the photos to the dog and asked the dog if he could ID them. I think Sisto and Bernard are turning into a great pair.

I also enjoyed Jack’s altercation with Gardner when he orders him to sit down, and then continues to foil Gardner’s every attempt to squirm out of testifying. That’s my Jack!

Here is the recap:
A woman is shopping at a store and she is wearing expensive jewelry. She takes it off and puts it into her purse. Later, she is found dead on a street in Harlem, her purse missing and no identification, but Detectives Lupo (Jeremy Sisto) and Bernard (Anthony Anderson) note that she has an expensive manicure and expensive clothes, and wonder what she is doing in that neighborhood. They talk to a few kids in the area, one of them, Carlos (E. J. Bonilla), who is wearing and orange jacket. At first they deny seeing anything, and when Lupo threatens to call ACS, they admit they saw her being hit by a newspaper truck.

They talk to the driver of the truck, and after denying seeing anything, he then admits he hit her. He said she was running from one of the “Harlem kids” who was wearing an orange jacket. They bring Carlos to the 2-7, still wearing his orange jacket, and under pressure from them he admits that he saw the woman running from “Tiny”, a dog who was making a racket. She had on no shoes and her clothes were a mess and she appeared scared. When he asked if he could help her, she ran, he did not chase her into traffic. When they discuss Carlos with Lt. Van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson), she tells them Carlos has a long sheet, and the ME says that the victim has fresh bruise marks on her that looked like finger marks, and also had green glass embedded in her clothes that came from a window pane. She tells them to go find out what she was doing before she crossed paths with Carlos.

Back in the ‘hood, the detectives come upon a barking “Tiny” and Lupo jokingly shows the dog the pictures of the people involved. Bernard notices a broken window at the top floor of the apartment. They talk to someone who is in charge of the building, who says it was foreclosed on a year ago. After they enter the apartment, they find the victim’s purse with her jewelry still in it, and her ID shows her name is Blair Carlson. They notice several bottles of water and a newspaper covering one of the windows is from Sunday. There is also a new lock on one of the door, and when they enter the room, they see a window has been broken from the inside; they suspect Blair tried to escape from here.

They check out her apartment at her SoHo address, and are told she was last seen there about 10:00 AM the previous day, and that her boyfriend was Pete Gardner, CEO of a failed investment group called Markham Fraser Investments. Blair has been looking at real estate listings as investments. She had a few instant messages on her PC from Pete Gardner, “Hey babe, if you wanted to scare me it worked” and “Call me now, Pete.”

Later, at the home of Pete Gardner (Michael Gaston), he said he got a text saying that someone had his girlfriend and they wanted $200,000, and he originally thought it was a joke. He sent a message back okaying the drop for the next day so he could have time to get the money but he never heard back. He added that he was very discreet about their relationship, and was worried because his wife would be home soon. They said they can’t find Blair’s family and show him her photo. He looks at the picture and said with an angry tone that she should have stayed put; he would have paid the money.

They visit the apartment of Davey Burke (Jon Prescott), who admits to sending a threatening email to Gardner. He was upset about his own losses with Gardner’s investment company, and even angrier that his father took his own life after losing all this stock investment with Gardner, and Gardner still kept all his money and bonuses. As Bernard looks around the apartment, he sees a book of photos; one photo shows Pete Gardner with their earlier suspect, Carlos.

The detectives had Carlos back at the 2-7. They show him a picture of Gardner, and he admits that he runs a program that he belongs to called Fresh Horizons, and he gives the group money. They also tell him they found his prints on a water bottle in the apartment Blair ran from, and he does not believe them, thinking it is a trick. He says he was at Fresh Horizons until 4:00 PM and then was checking out boats by the river. The detectives laugh at this, Lupo calling it a “sorry ass” alibi. But Carlos says he has no girlfriend and his mom is in prison so he goes there to chill. Afterwards, Lupo and Bernard speculate that the kid may have put the water bottle in the truck, and that someone else smarter must be involved in this. Bernard finds the web site for Fresh Horizons, it is a post-release program for offenders from the ages of 13-18 and they decide to check them out.

At Fresh Horizons, they speak to the man in charge, Ronnie Aldridge (Kevin Corrigan). All the kids are wearing orange jackets. They check out Carlos’ locker and find the same blue painter’s tape that was in the apartment. Ronnie says that Carlos helps on of the program’s graduates in doing painting and light construction. When they talk to this guy, Perez, he tells them Carlos does help him and he tries to help out Ronnie’s kids. Ronnie has been good to him. The detectives tell him they owe it to Ronnie to help set things straight. He tells them that Ronnie sometimes refers work from some of his rich donors to him, and he did work for Blair in repainting her gym. She also was donating a Stairmaster that Ronnie was going to pick up in his van.

Back at Blair’s apartment, they are talking to the doorman George who says that Ronnie was there two weeks ago. He was always hustling him for donations. He was there with one of his kids, but it was a black kid, not Carlos, and the kid stayed in the van. The detectives wonder if Ronnie is really the saint he claims to be.

Later, at the Department of Juvenile Justice, they get information from a worker there who says Ronnie does all he can for his boys. He was last audited two months prior and everything was properly accounted for. When they ask if he had any money problems like gambling, she says “Oh dear” and they realize they said the “magic words.” She said she got a letter from a horse breeder, Dale Thornhill, asking about Ronnie and Fresh Horizons.

They talk to Thornhill who had a farm that Ronnie was interested in buying and use it for his kids so he could take them out of the city. The property was right next to the freeway. The price was $200,000, and it was worth more than that, but Ronnie told him he could claim the difference as a charitable deduction.

Back at the 2-7, they have Carlos back in interrogation again, asking if he knows about the farmhouse purchase. Ronnie had told him about it, and Ronnie needed $200,000 to buy it. They pressure Carlos that Ronnie would sell him out, and he should man up and tell the truth. They walk off and leave Carlos in the room.

Back at Fresh Horizons with Ronnie, he wants to know what is going on since the y took his van. They tell him things aren’t looking good for Carlos. Lupo tells him they found a strand of hair in the van, and Ronnie says it must have come from Blair’s Stairmaster that she donated and that he picked up. He then admits he told Carlos to put the water in his van. When they ask him if that is an admission, Ronnie asks for a lawyer. As they take him out in cuffs, he gives instructions to the kids to keep working on their assignments.

At the office of EADA Michael Cutter (Linus Roache) along with ADA Connie Rubirosa (Alana De La Garza), they are talking with Pete Gardner about the case. Gardner thinks that Ronnie may have kidnapped Clair for spite, since Gardner originally promised to donate money and then had to pull out due to his firm’s bankruptcy. Gardner keeps looking at his watch. He says Ronnie wasn’t considering his situation when he continued to press for money. When he looks at his watch again, Cutter asks if his watch is expensive. When Gardner says “Very. Your point?” Cutter tells him, “Leave it at home when we call you to testify.” When Gardner leaves, Rubirosa asks, “Where’s a newspaper truck when you need one?” Cutter decides he is going to charge both Ronnie and Carlos for the crimes.

At arraignment court, both Ronnie and Carlos plead not guilty, but Ronnie’s attorney Dibbins (John Ventimiglia) says he has information to clear Carlos but that does not mean an admission of guilt for Ronnie. He says he has 12 witnesses for Ronnie, and 12 kids from Fresh Horizons in their orange jackets who are in the gallery get very vocal about Ronnie’s innocence. The judge asks to get all their names and addresses to check them out, and holds both defendants of $500,000 bail each.

At the 2-7 the detectives talk to the kids while Rubirosa looks on. She comments to Van Buren that their stories are too contradictory, but Van Buren is worried that Cutter will make fools of them on the stand. Later, we see a van from the NYC Department of Child Services pull up to the farm. The kids, along with the detectives and Van Buren exit, and they explain that the farm is not what Ronnie promised – there is no ball field, no lake, no workshop, and there isn’t even water to electricity in the place. They don’t deserve this from Ronnie, and all the kids look dejected and betrayed.

Later, back at Cutters office, Rubirosa tells Ronnie and Dibbins that the alibi witnesses are no longer, they have all recanted their alibis. But, they did alibi Carlos and confirm that Ronnie told him to put the water in the van. Cutter tells him that the emperor has no clothes, and the boys know it. They offer him 15 years to life for the murder, to run concurrent with kidnapping, or he can take his chances at trial. Dibbins says that is what he is planning to do.

Back at the DA’s office, Gardner complains to Cutter that he won’t testify. There are too many people who would take what he says and use it against him for other cases. As he gets up and moves towards the door, Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) is standing there, and he orders him to sit down. He says if Gardner refuses to testify he will charge him with contempt, and he won’t be able to get out of it by writing a check. When Gardner says he will take the fifth, McCoy counters that he will give him something more than a few lawsuits to worry about. He has a building full of broke prosecutors who would love to put him in their sights. When Gardner asks what’s in it for him, McCoy asks if he’s ever done something for nothing – and here’s his chance.

At trial, Gardner is on the stand and testifies for Cutter about the kidnapping and ransom. But when Dibbins cross examines Gardner, he brings out Gardner’s massive bonus, the TARP money his firm received, and the expensive trip he took his management to in Sedona. The judge sustains most of Cutter’s objections, but the jury has already heard the damaging facts. Later, Cutter and Rubirosa have concerns that they seem to be putting Gardner on trial, using a “Robin Hood” defense, but Cutter plans to show that Gardner is not the only one with a character flaw.

With Carlos on the stand, Cutter exposes that despite the praise Carlos has heaped on Ronnie and that he was like a father to them, that Ronnie has not come through on his promises, not very father-like behavior. But afterwards, Rubirosa doesn’t think that the whole thing played very well for the jury, and she is handed paperwork that notifies them that Dibbins will be putting Ronnie on the stand.
Dibbins has Ronnie on the stand, who says when he picked up the Stairmaster from Carlson, she told him about buying real estate in Harlem but Garner belittled her. He told her she should not get discouraged and he told them about the farm and that Gardner backed out of his commitment. He said he got really angry about that. It was so little money and his wife spent more than that every month on clothes. She suggested a wild idea to fake her kidnapping and force Gardner to pay a ransom. Gardner wouldn’t all the cops because he wouldn’t want his wife to find out about Blair. He said when she suggested this, even though it was a wild idea he went along with it because he did not want to let his boys down. He drove her over to the place on Lenox Avenue, and she said they had to make it look real. After he texted Gardner, he locked her in the room, because the plan was after he got the money he would tell Gardner where she was so he could get her. When asked why she escaped, Ronnie says it took so long for Gardner to get back to him about the ransom payment. There were rats in the building, maybe she got scared? By the time he got back there, the police were already there and she was laying in the street. He realized now how stupid it was, he just wanted Gardner to live up to his commitments. Cutter says to the judge that this testimony is unexpected and the people ask for a short adjournment. She gives him until the following morning.

Back at the DA’s office, McCoy asks them if there is a grain of truth is what Ronnie said. Cutter thinks the story is preposterous, but Rubirosa thinks it is plausible. McCoy wonders if it is plausible enough to get the jury to acquit, and tells Cutter to demolish it and not leave a brick standing.

Back on the stand, Cutter chips away at Ronnie’s story, asking about why Blair had on no shoes, and why her bruises were fresh. Ronnie tries to blame Carlos and/or Gardner. Cutter portrays Ronnie as being in Fresh Horizons because he has nothing else, and that all of this was for Ronnie. Ronnie insists it was for the boys, not for himself.

In the closing arguments Dibbins tries to portray Ronnie as a person who saved the boys from a bad life, and when he tries to bring Gardner into the mix and hand pictures to the jury of Gardner’s townhouse in Architectural Digest, Cutter objects. The judge orders the court officer to collect the photos from the jurors and tells Dibbins to stick to the facts. He goes on to tell them the one undisputed fact if Blair Carlson would be alive today if Gardner kept up his commitment, Cutter objects and is sustained, the judge cutting off his summation.

In Cutter’s summation, he brings out another fact not in dispute - Blair would be alive to day if Ronnie wouldn’t have transported her there and left her locked up in the dark for hours, leaving her frightened and disoriented enough that she ran into a truck. He says Gardner and those like him deserve their scorn and outrage but they are not alone, but they should not take it out in the courtroom. They cannot ignore their responsibilities or the rule of law. He reminds them the crime charged is the kidnap/murder of Blair Carlson, and the culprit is before them and nothing else can matter.

Later, the jury delivers a verdict of not guilty on both counts, to the cheers of the boys. Cutter and Rubirosa look crestfallen. Carlos congratulates Ronnie, but then Carlos leaves alone.

Back in the Cutter’s office, Rubirosa tells a dejected Cutter he nailed Aldridge on cross, the summation was one of his best and he did everything right. McCoy ads, “Except win.” Cutter says he should file a grievance against Aldridge’s lawyer, and McCoy says he didn’t nullify the jury, Dow Jones did. Cutter wonders if it’s the shape of things to come, with hard times and more anger and despair - more crime. Rubirosa says he can always hope for the best – and McCoy says “and hire more prosecutors.” As McCoy and Rubirosa both walk off, Cutter is left alone in his office as we fade to black.

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samfan said...

I liked this episode, I think Lupo and Bernard are becoming quite the pair. I think that the first half was better then the second. I really liked Jack's lines in this episode, they were surprising! I enjoyed this episode even though Cutter lost. This episode really made you think. I thought it was good overall.

Anonymous said...

Great episode and fantastic review.

By the way, a Judge can never set aside an acquittal. They can only set aside a conviction, when they believe that a jury convicted against the weight of the evidence (essentially, the jury voted to convict even though the prosecution's case in chief failed to prove all the elements of a charge beyond a reasonable doubt). There's no way around double-jeopardy once there's an acquittal by a jury.

All Things Law and Order said...

That makes perfect sense. I suppose if the judge could do it the prosecutors wouldn't be so worried about jury nullification (I write this as I smack myself on the forehead!).

Anonymous said...

Don't worry about not knowing that. In most countries -- even ones with Double Jeopardy provisions -- the government is allowed to appeal improper acquittals. But in the U.S., even if the government had rock-solid proof that the jury verdict was improper, they can't do anything against it.

Outside the U.S. though, many countries allow the prosecution to appeal acquittals to higher courts if they can prove that something irregular or insane happened during the trial (like in the episode; there's no way you can honestly say that the woman deserved to be kidnapped and murdered because her boyfriend was a jerk).