Standing along in a nearly empty courtroom yesterday, former D.C. Superior Court judge Robert H. Campbell suddenly broke the silence he has maintained throughout the seven weeks of his trial on bribery and conspiracy charges.
Leaning against a wooden bench, twirling a set of keys, Campbell, by his unexpected willingness to talk about his case, provided a dramatic interlude in what had been a dull afternoon of waiting while the jury deliberated for a second day.
Campbell, who was tried in connection with alleged conduct while on the bench, defended his record as a judge and said he had been "hurt" by what he termed "vicious lies." In addition, he thanked an FBI agent, who happened to be in the courtroom, who months ago had apologized when fingerprint ink stained the judge's white shirt. He also complimented a prosecutor who had once appeared in his courtroom.
At one point in the discussion, Campbell waved off a defense lawyer when the attorney suggested that he stop talking. "It doesn't make any difference now, it's all over," said Campbell.
In fact, the trial is now at its most delicate stage as the jury struggles to reach a verdict. Each night, the jurors, who are not sequestered, have returned to their homes with a stern warning from the court that they must not read or listen to anything about the case. Lawyers and defendants traditionally retreat from the public eye at this sensitive time but yesterday, Campbell seemed anxious to tell his side to his tiny audience in the courtroom.
"Since I sat in judgment of people, I am now willing to have those same people sit in judgment of me," Campbell said in a long, rambling discussion with five observers who were seated in the federal District Court courtroom, waiting for word that the panel of eight women and four men had made a decision in the case.
"But you would think I was a thief and a crook the way they painted me," Campbell said of the government's criminal case against him.
"I may have to suffer the pain of an unjust judgment, I very well might . . .," said the former judge, who at times in the discussion seemed to indicate that he had resigned himself to being found guilty.
At one point, when the courtroom clerk indicated that there was a note from the jury, Campbell turned to walk back to the well of the courtroom and said, "I must go now like Socrates and drink the hemlock." He added that at some point "posterity" might set the record straight for him.
"Somebody's going to find the truth sometime; it's not going to come out here," Campbell said.
As it turned out, the jury simply wanted to wind up their work for the day. "We are exhausted and we want to go home," jury foreman Patricia Moton said in the note to U.S. District Judge Thomas A. Flannery. Flannery agreed, but told the jurors that they must resume deliberations at 9:30 a.m. today. With the announcement of a Saturday session, juror Rosa Quattlebaum's jaw dropped in surprise.
Campbell is charged with accepting close to $10,000 in bribes and goods and services in exchange for his lenient handling of overweight truck tickets issued to Excavation Construction Inc., a Maryland based construction firm. The former judge and Larry A. Campbell (no relation to the judge), the firm's general manager, and the firm itself are charged with conspiracy, bribery and racketeering.
The former judge, who retired abruptly from the Superior Court bench in December 1978 on medical disability, seemed particularly bitter about the government's allegation that he had a "pay-or-stay" policy in traffic court. According to the government, that meant that traffic defendants either paid their fines immediately or went directly to jail.
"You check it, I challenge you to check it," Campbell retorted to reporters, adding that the government made it seem that he had put thousands of people in jail.
"They used to say I put women in jail; you won't find a single woman I put in jail," Campbell said.
"There's a word in the law [that] means produce the body," Campbell said at one point. "Why can't you find some of those people I put in jail?"
Campbell's defense lawyer, R. Kenneth Mundy, who was not at the courthouse yesterday, had been critical of the government in his closing argument for what he termed its failure to bring into court any persons who had been jailed under the purported policy.
Campbell also complained that one of his former law clerks told him that Campbell's FBI mug shot was once hanging on the wall in the office of assistant U.S. Attorney John P. Hume. one of the government prosecutors in the case. Hume refused to comment when asked about this.
"They will probably put it in the post office now," Campbell said of the photograph. He said he thought the government had a vendetta against him and encouraged a reporter in the courtroom to find out why.
"I'm an honorably discharged beteran," Campbell said. "I worked my way through college and law school. I've never been charged with a crime. You find out why they chose me."
"I enjoyed talking to you," Campbell said as he walked back to the defense table after the jury's note had been received by Judge Flannery.
"It's the guillotine now," the former judge said as he took his place. But the jury simply wanted to call it a day.