Did Robert Morvillo, Martha Stewart’s lawyer, suggest to the jury a theme that the judge in the trial has forbidden him to say outright? That Martha Stewart is a victim of her own celebrity and of an overzealous Justice Department?

By Ann Woolner

“What is this case about? It starts and finishes with Martha Stewart. Not much more,” Morvillo told the jury. Alternately bellowing and speaking so softly as to barely be heard, Martha Stewart’s lawyer paced and he pointed and he sometimes stood still. He slammed his hand on the jury box rail for emphasis.

But there was more, of course.

“This case is brought to you by the United States Department of Justice, headed by John Ashcroft,” he said.

Morvillo said nothing else about the U.S. attorney general. He didn’t have to.

The lawyer never came right out and accused the government of selective prosecution or improper motives, because U.S. District Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum had said he couldn’t. Those issues are supposed to be raised pretrial before a judge, not at trial before a jury, she had emphatically ruled.

Nor did Morvillo say Stewart was being punished for exercising her freedom of speech when she publicly declared her innocence, though her press statements claiming innocence got her charged with a federal crime. The judge had ruled out the free- speech argument, too.

She also forbid Morvillo to say that a stock fraud charge against Stewart is a “novel” use of the law, because, Cedarbaum ruled, that called for a legal analysis beyond the jury’s job.

In his statement to the jury on Tuesday, Morvillo squeezed around barriers Cedarbaum put in his way, slipping forbidden themes into his presentation.

He called one charge against her “weird” and another “bizarre.”

“This really is a very unusual case,” he said. He didn’t use the word, “novel.”

Stewart, he told them, is “a victim more than a defendant.”

A victim of what, he didn’t say. He didn’t have to.

Anyone who reads, watches or listens to news knows the theory that poor Martha is being persecuted for who she is, not prosecuted for what she did.

Just in case some juror missed that point, the 35-page questionnaire given potential jurors earlier this month contained a helpful hint:

Do you believe the government is prosecuting Stewart because she is a “powerful woman in a man’s world?” While intended to identify jurors with a bias, that is the sort of question that can mold opinion as well as measure it.

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