Ex-coaches' trial short on interest
TUSCALOOSA — The trial of the century started here Tuesday without much interest, mainly because it was without the juicy claims of NCAA conspiracy that fueled its hype to begin with.
So maybe it's not the trial of the century anymore. More like the trial of the week, if you look at the interest shown at its first day of real action Tuesday.
At one point during the morning's proceedings, 22 people were behind the bar — that's legalese for spectators. Eleven of them were reporters, some clearly out of their element.
By the time jurors crowded the courtroom in the afternoon, probably two or three folks were sitting around who had little reason to be there.
So Ronnie Cottrell and Ivy Williams will get their day, or week, or two weeks, in court. Will anyone care? Even Tommy Gallion, the Montgomery lawyer who never met a word he didn't like to use in his perfected Southern drawl, expressed disgust. Shooting the breeze with reporters assembled outside Judge Steve Wilson's courtroom before the morning session, Gallion said he didn't have much business being there anyway.
State of Tennessee vs. John T. Scopes, this was not — though lawyers for the NCAA and Tom Culpepper still maintain this whole thing is monkey business.
The television cameras were there, though most left soon after getting the requisite "Cottrell and Williams walk into court" shot. Jurors in this case were no different than jurors in any other case — the words, "You're dismissed," are better than, "Congratulations, we're with the Prize Patrol."
Wilson, dressed in the usual black robe for the afternoon's proceedings, didn't have much of a problem keeping decorum in the court. Aside from the usual entertaining barbs from the lawyers, there was little commotion in the courtroom. On a day devoid of juicy testimony, jurors provided the best entertainment.
When they were assembled en masse shortly after 1:30 p.m., Wilson and the attorneys asked them a series of questions.
One woman, who was later quickly struck from the jury pool, wasn't shy about her opinion. She said the case just wasn't the same after Wilson stripped it last week, and said it in an emphatic way that left no gray area about her feelings. Another man stood up and said essentially the same thing.
One wonders how many other prospective jurors felt the same way, but were quiet about it.
Later, as the jurors filled the wooden courtroom benches, plaintiffs' attorney Delaine Mountain asked if anyone didn't want to be empaneled. A voice quickly shot back: "How long you planning on being here?"
Wilson occasionally sipped from a cup he brought back from the barbecue restaurant he patronized at lunch, the same one that a group of reporters ate at a table over. He smiled when the jurors, as regular a cross-section of Tuscaloosa County as one could get, good-naturedly fumbled with some of the questions.
Call in Art Linkletter, let's get "Prospective Jurors Say the Darndest Things" for the fall schedule.
One man, as NCAA attorney Courtney Crowder quizzed him on some questions he had answered in his 18-page jury questionnaire, seemed puzzled. Apparently, he didn't write all his answers. Then, it dawned on him:
"No, I think my wife filled out that part," he said, drawing laughs.
One older woman, dressed flawlessly in a purple dress, smiled as she answered questions. Then, she admitted her deep, dark, bias: She just wants everybody to win. She hates to see people lose.
"Good luck to all of y'all," she said, smiling, in the lawyers' direction as she left the witness stand.
Of course, today's proceedings will take a more serious turn. Gallion's "lawyering," as his associate and Decatur native Philip Shanks calls it, will take center stage.
But who will be around to see it?