All people share the right and the responsibility to make the decisions that affect their lives together.
And so the stage was set: my ancestors, the Hopes, had set to farming in the Valley before the country was born and they still are there. The land has been farmed continuously by one family for over three hundred years. As the farm has been handed down, so the values that formed this country have been handed down from one generation to the next without interruption. My fiancé was dead. Bob Dobrow, the other part of my self, had died in the military uniform of the United States. The honor guard folded the flag from his casket, handed it to his mother and said, “He died for his country.” His country, in the form of Deputy Comptroller Dick Sheeran, had shaken me down for a political contribution in order to keep my job. The special prosecutor had arrived in town, the newspapers called it a witch-hunt, and the passionate fire of citizenship had been lit in me.
And, after all the interviews, the Special Prosecutor’s Office put me before the Grand Jury. We met in the office first thing in the morning. Guido Viseone, Peter Andreoli, the investigator and I walked the three blocks to the Jefferson Street Armory where the grand jury was sitting. Mr. Andreoli was tall, broad and balding; walking next to him, at 5’1” and 135 pounds, I felt like I had to skip to keep up. On the walk, Mr. Andreoli directed me to keep my head down and not look at anybody. He said that if anybody approached me or tried to take my photograph, I should just keep walking and his people would deal with it. I was shocked and thinking, “For Pete’s sake, guys, this isn’t New York City! This is just dumb old Syracuse and who’s going to care about me walking down the street?” But Andreoli came with experience and it was his job to keep me safe. Keep me safe? From what?
The Syracuse Armory, located on Jefferson Street, had been designed in the mid-1800’s to serve as a fortress in the event of national emergency, “a function expressed by its medieval-castle detailing and massing.” Most importantly, the Armory was under state jurisdiction, not local. We entered this medieval castle, which was fiercely intimidating, and went to the room where the grand jury was meeting. The room was also fiercely intimidating, having old, dark paneling, a very high ceiling, and lots of pictures of old military officers looking sternly down from the walls.
The grand jury system goes back to England and King John who, in 1215, was forced by the nobility to sign the Magna Carta. Prior to that, the king could do pretty much whatever he wanted when it came to accusing and trying someone for a crime. With the Magna Carta, the accusations against a criminal first had to be presented to a grand jury, as opposed to a petit jury, or trial jury; a grand jury in New York State has between sixteen and twenty-three members. In order to eliminate malicious prosecution of the citizens, the king had to prove to a panel of citizens that (a) a crime probably had been committed and (b) the accused probably had done it. Thereafter, the crime and the criminal would be moved to a trial jury for proof certain.
My experience working in the Grand Jury Unit of the Onondaga County District Attorney’s Office had taught me that grand jurors are subpoenaed from the same pool as the trial jurors. They meet in secret, which is to say that the only people allowed in the room are the jurors, prosecuting attorney, witnesses (one at a time) and the court reporter. The prosecuting attorney from the federal, state or county government represents “the People,” but the grand jury also is made up of “the People.” Historically, it was the king versus the people; now it is the people versus the people.
So the prosecutor presents the witnesses against the alleged criminal. The accused criminal has the right testify but cannot be represented by an attorney. After hearing all the evidence the prosecuting attorney choses to present, the grand jury can vote to indict or no-bill. An indictment says, ‘we, the citizen-representatives, believe a crime probably has been committed and this guy probably done it.’ The “guy” is then arrested and bound over for trial. A “no-bill” is the citizens’ refusal to issue a bill of indictment, that is, to charge a particular individual with a particular crime. It is commonly and rightly said that any good prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. It is a one-sided affair and naïve jurors generally will do whatever the prosecutor wants them to do—but not always. I’d seen prosecuting attorneys come out of the grand jury room looking frustrated to the point of anger because a group of citizens had refused to see things from the government’s point of view.
Now I was to testify before the grand jury. I was petrified. My hands were shaking, my mouth was dry and I was at serious risk of fainting. Guido Viseone, technically, worked in the Special Prosecutor’s Grand Jury Unit. In fact, he and one investigator were the entire Grand Jury Unit. He was the only lawyer I’d talked to but it was the great man himself, Andreoli, who questioned me before the grand jury. I was frightened of him, too.
My testimony was not lengthy. Mr. Sheeran’s shakedown took less than ten minutes to do and little more time to tell (having to establish details of location and relationships took a few minutes). Afterwards, the only thing that I specifically remembered was Mr. Andreoli asking me about contracts with the county; Guido and I had never talked about it.
I explained that, in the Comptroller’s Office, vendors’ contracts in their blue jackets were rolled up and stuck vertically in a row of cartons on the shelves in the back of the office. Periodically, when the chief auditor needed to verify something before authorizing a payment, she would go to the back of the office and dig through the cartons until she found the requisite contract. Mr. Andreoli’s incredulity was barely concealed; it had never occurred to me that rolling up contracts and sticking them in cardboard cartons wasn’t the most professional way of storing legal documents. It was Onondaga County; it was the way things were done.