Saturday, 2:15 PM
Judge Blake gestured today as he talked to the jury.
By Dick Lehr, Globe Correspondent
MIAMI -- “Welcome back!” booms the judge to the jury. “How ya doin’?’’’
It’s morning, and this is the second day of the murder trial of defrocked FBI star John J. Connolly, and the presiding Judge Stanford Blake sounds like a standup comic behind an open mike.
When he yells a greeting from his bench to a gaggle of reporters covering the trial he cracks, “Please, if you notice I’ve fallen asleep during testimony, just say I’m deep in thought.’’
When he jousts with the stone-serious Fred Wyshak, the Boston federal prosecutor on loan to the locals, about sartorial choices Wyshak’s made for this road trip, Blake says that since becoming a judge 14 years ago he can no longer afford the fancy suits.
In fact, the judge says, “I sew pant legs to the bottom of my robe and wear gym shorts underneath.’’
Blake’s courtroom style is folksy and loose – a real contrast to the kind of pinched formality most visiting Bostonians are used to seeing in court. It’s an informality that’s left some of Connolly’s friends and supporters scratching their heads – I mean this is a murder trial and Connolly’s life, in effect, is hanging in the balance. If convicted, Connolly’s going to spend the rest of his days behind bars.
But the local lawyers and courthouse workers say don’t be fooled – Blake is deadly serious about justice. “He’s likeable, he’s smart, and he’s hard-working,’’ says Michael Von Zamft, the assistant state attorney working alongside Wyshak. “He keeps cases moving with his humor.’’
Blake has seen it all – presiding over trials of accused rapists, molesters and murderers. One killer is now on death row following the judge’s sentencing. The man was convicted of strangling his girlfriend and trying to flush her cut-up corpse down the toilet.
So for the judge, there’s a method to his one-liners. “People are usually petrified about being on a jury,’’ he says during the lunch recess while at his desk in his chambers. “I want to make it easier for jurors to come to court.’’
Blake turned 60 last Saturday, a former marathoner and now avid golfer who combs his gray hair back and keeps a mustache neatly groomed. Though a native of Detroit, his family moved to Miami when he was a baby, and it’s been all Florida ever since – local public schools, the University of Florida and the University of Miami Law School.
He was a defense lawyer for nearly two decades before becoming a judge. For the past seven years he’s served as administrative judge in the circuit court’s criminal division.
The humor, he says, is not intended “to take away from the solemnity’’ of Connolly’s murder trial. He wants early on to get the eight women and seven men loosened up and talking, so that later on, during deliberations, when some may have sharp disagreements, they’ve already gotten over the hump of sharing their views.
He doesn’t worry that jurors might mistake his seemingly freewheeling style for judicial laxness. “Jurors get it,’’ he says. “They know what their job ultimately is.’’
By this morning, it’s clear this jury and judge have already forged a bond. Jurors arrived in court smiling and joking, chatting with the judge for a few minutes about how they spent their nights. “Well I got beeped at 1:30 and 4:30 in the morning to sign warrants,’’ the judge was saying, “but I will stay awake during the entire trial.’’
Dick Lehr is the co-author of the national bestseller "Black Mass: The True
Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob." He wrote for the Boston Globe from 1986 to 2003.
Then later, while lawyers are haggling over documents and the jury is taking a break, the judge turns to reporters toying with their laptop computers. Hey, he yells, how about an update on the stock market?
“The Sox are tied for first,’’ the Globe’s Kevin Cullen yells from the bleachers. “That’s all you need to know.’’
But the judge always gets the last line: “I’m just glad I had Brady on my fantasy football team last year.’’
Dick Lehr is the co-author of the national bestseller “Black Mass: The True Story of the Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob.’’ He wrote for the Boston Globe from 1986 to 2003.
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