The Legal Nit-Picker’s Guide to Baltar’s Trial

Well…Baltar’s trial is off and running, and – as much as I love the new BSG – I am again reminded of why I can’t stand courtroom novels, courtroom movies, and courtroom TV dramas. They never get the details right.

So…while I love the larger plot developments in Crossroads 1, I find myself largely dissatisfied with the details of the goings-on in the courtroom. Here are a plus and the (bigger) minuses:

PLUS: The overall prosecution and defense strategies are dead on. The opening statement focused everything right where it should be – on the post-New Caprica body count. Likewise, the defense – in a move similar to Robert Redford in Legal Eagles – begins by faking an “I give up” approach – may as well just plead guilty, thats what the mob wants. It forces the tribunal to reflect on whether they are going to seriously consider the case or whether it is just a superficial show of justice, the outcome of which has already been determined.

MINUS: President Laura as a star witness? Sure, she may be respected, but she doesn’t know anything. She wasn’t there when Baltar signed the death order. All she can say is that the new-Caprica police took her to a place where she was supposed to be executed by Cylons.

MINUS: Where is Gaeta? Monitoring draedis while all this is happening? C’mon! He’s the guy who can brand Baltar as a Cylon-kissup-weasel.

MINUS: Lee’s cross-examination of Laura was horrendous. And perhaps that was the point, from a plot standpoint. It should have been an easy set up and knock-down. Get her to commit to certainty about her testimony, discredit her with all of her alleged drug-induced “visions,” and then ask her whether she is currently taking the drug. Instead, she gets away with seemingly endless sidebars about how disappointed she is in him. Likewise, he doesn’t object to her goading him into asking her about her cancer. Bad marks for Lee. He should return to being a CAG.

PLUS: The cross examination/discrediting of Saul, easy though it may have been, was thoroughly devastating to the prosecution. Every lawyer’s dream is to cross-examine a witness who is so angry that he would readily admit to his extreme bias against a client. (‘Course, it also didn’t hurt that he was drunk at the time.)

MINUS: Adama shouldn’t even THINK he gets to make evidentiary rulings. He is obviously not the head of the tribunal, and his legal expertise is virtually non existent.

MINUS: The prosecution doesn’t have a case with the two witnesses we’ve seen so far. We don’t even know that Baltar ordered any of the killings. The case could be thrown out without more evidence. But…

There is a more intrinsic problem with the case: even if the it could be proven, everyone knows that Baltar had no real control over what was happening on New Caprica. He was nothing more than a powerless figurehead. He was a coward and a weasel, but it probably is true that his actions saved more lives than were lost. The security breaches that brought the Cylon attack on the colonies, on the other hand, are deserving of severe punishment, but totally un-proveable.

I think this will be the central plot point in Crossroads 2. Will they kill Baltar for things that can’t be proven? It is a test not only of the system but of humanity itself. Will they eschew civilized systems of justice to satisfy the clamorings of the mob?

My prediction is still this: on a 3-2 vote (hinted at in the trailer for Crossroads 2), the tribunal will acquit. I also (still) contend that Adama, discovering a new-found respect for Lee and re-discovering a respect for his own father, will cast the deciding vote.

Then, as we all know…its going to hit the fan. The Cylons will strike, another cryptic clue about Earth will be discovered, three of the final five will “wake up” in the heart of the Galactica, and we will all get to wait about nine months before we know what happens next.


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