Sitting on the Dock of the Bay

When a jury in a high-profile case is deliberating it is both the best and the worst time to be a legal analyst. It is the best time because you are desparately needed by your reporter colleagues who are getting pressured by their editors and producers to "move the needle" on a story that isn't showing any public sign of needle-moving. And it is the worst time because you get asked all sorts of stupid, unanswerable questions.

Jury deliberations are secret for a reason and the best advice I can give those of you interested in the Enron trial is to relax, kick back, and allow the process to play itself through. Just wait. The truth (or at least a verdict) shall one day be revealed.

And the same can be said for the burgeoning legal dispute over those telephone records that USA Today says are being transferred from a handful of companies over to the National Security Agency. The carefully-worded statements by BellSouth and Verizon indicate the companies are lawyering up for the court fight that is bound to get as nasty as we've seen in quite some time.

Meanwhile, in a different but related case, a federal trial judge in San Francisco ruled today that documents relating to alleged surveillance of AT&T's telephone and emails by the NSA can be used in a court case challenging the government's domestic spying program. It's a gateway ruling that is probably the first of many in the AT&T case and a preview of what we all ought to expect in the dispute generated by the USA Today story.

The companies and the government are going kick and drag and scream and fight to avoid even having to turn over information that might possibility be relevant to the issues raised by customers who aren't happy about having their phone records tracked by the NSA. I can easily see all of these lawsuits dragging out for years, long past the end of the Bush Presidency in 2009 even, unless a practical or potliical solution crops up in the meantime.

Patience on an Enron verdict in a case that is winding down. Patience on the fight over telephone records in a case that is just warming up. If you follow those rules you'll never have even a stupid question pop into your head.

By  |  May 17, 2006; 5:00 PM ET
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