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What's Taking the Rajaratnam Jury So Long? Here's What

Real life court cases bear very little resemblance to the ones on "Law & Order," and Exhibit A is the Raj Rajaratnam insider trading trial in New York.

Raj Rajaratnam
AP
Raj Rajaratnam

Jurors began deliberations just after noon on Monday and adjourned just after noon on Friday, wrapping up the week early because one member of the panel had a plane ticket to Orlando for the weekend.

That's four full days of deliberation without a verdict — a far cry from the mere minutes it usually takes on TV — and the length of deliberation has caused speculation from some that the landmark case could be headed for a hung jury. But any such speculation is wildly premature, for a number of reasons.

First, the case is far more complex than it may seem on the surface.

Rajaratnam faces 14 criminal counts — five counts of conspiracy to commit securities fraud and nine substantive counts of insider trading — in an alleged scheme that dates back to 2003. Before the jurors began their deliberations on Monday, they were required to listen to 90 minutes of instructions from U.S. District Judge Richard Holwell on the subtleties of the law regarding conspiracy and insider trading.

For example, to find Rajaratnam guilty of insider trading, Holwell told jurors they must agree unanimously — and beyond a reasonable doubt — that Rajaratnam "employed a device, scheme or artifice to defraud," and that the alleged insider trading was done while in possession of "material, non-public information by virtue of a position of trust or confidence and his position of trust and confidence prevents him from disclosing that information." Got all that?

To find him guilty of conspiracy, jurors have to find unanimously that Rajaratnam had an agreement with at least one other person to commit insider trading, and that one member of the conspiracy took a step toward that goal. But the conspirators don't have to actually have gone through with the crime, and in Rajaratnam's case the stocks in the conspiracy counts are not necessarily the same as those in the insider trading counts.

Multiply that kind of complicated decision-making by 14 counts — each of which must be decided separately — and you begin to get a sense of the task jurors face.

Examining Wiretaps, Witnesses & More

Also complicating matters is the sheer volume of evidence the jurors have to consider. While the FBI's undercover telephone taps are at the heart of the government's case (you can listen to those wiretaps here, here and here) there are more than a thousand other exhibits introduced by the prosecution and the defense. Some two dozen witnesses testified over more than six weeks. And Rajaratnam, a one-time billionaire whose personal fortune was not frozen by the courts, is one of the rare criminal defendants who was able to meet and in many cases exceed the legal resources of the United States government.

More than 40 people, including attorneys, investigators and support staff, worked at various times on Rajaratnam's defense team. As a result, jurors are considering hefty cases on both sides, making their decision all the more complicated.

Other less complex white collar cases have taken longer to decide.

In 2005, a New York jury took more than seven days to convict former WorldCom CEO Bernard Ebbers on nine fraud counts. The following year, a Houston jury took more than five days to convict former Enron Chairman Kenneth Lay on six counts, and former CEO Jeffrey Skilling on 19 out of 28 counts. In 2002, following a six-week trial — roughly the same length as the Rajaratnam case — a jury took ten days to convict accounting firm Arthur Andersen of a single count of obstruction of justice. Some jurors later claimed the deliberations in that case were prolonged because the jury foreman, Oscar Criner, was taking notes in order to write a book on the case. The book was never published.

Jurors in the Rajaratnam trial have shown no signs of contentiousness during their brief appearances in the courtroom at the end of deliberations each day, or on the two occasions when they have sat in court to listen to replays of audio exhibits. Some jurors can be seen meeting cordially each morning outside the federal courthouse before heading upstairs to begin their day. Even behind closed doors, there are indications the group is getting along. The jury room adjoins the courtroom, and occasional bursts of laughter have occasionally been heard through the locked door.

In other words, as impatient as those outside the jury room may be, the jury is operating on its own timetable. Assuming they do eventually reach a verdict, they will do so when they are good and ready.