History on trial: Oil and gas, bribery at center of case
Though some creative license was taken to place the mock trial in Marietta, retired Washington County Common Pleas Judge Ed Lane explained to two audiences in the courtroom that the facts of The Castle’s annual fundraiser, History on Trial, “have Marietta written all over them.”
“This case had a lot of interesting legal points come up, many of which went to the Supreme Court,” said Lane. “Those rulings set a precedent for many of our (current) evidentiary rules.”
The case was based on newspaper articles and more than 150 indictments around 1906, when politicians and business people from both Marietta and Pittsburgh, including a former owner of The Castle and a former Marietta Mayor, were wrapped up in accusations of bribery and corruption concerning the entrance of a second railroad in Marietta. In reality, the case had been tried in Parkersburg.
Public Defender Ray Smith and attorney Robin Bozian (playing the character on trial– Marietta City Councilwoman Willa Martin, who was actually 16th Ward Councilman William Martin of Pittsburgh in the real trial) put up such vigorous defense arguments Monday that in both the morning session for local schoolchildren and the public afternoon session, the verdict was the same.
The morning session saw a vote of 32-28 finding “Martin” not guilty of solicitation of bribery, the afternoon session saw the same verdict with a vote of 43-20.
Bozian played the part of a city councilwoman accused of requesting a bribe to pass through legislation allowing the building of a new railroad terminal in Marietta.
“The delays were coming from other council persons, it was not coming from me,” she testified Monday.
But the performance also outed other corruption in the courtroom–namely that of the judge, played by Washington County Common Pleas Judge Mark Kerenyi, who had Smith escorted from the courtroom in handcuffs for a charge of contempt of court.
Nataleigh Norman, 9, a student of Little Hocking Elementary, attended the morning session with her parents Kayla and John.
She said she ultimately voted to find Bozian’s character guilty of solicitation for bribery, though she said she had mixed feelings.
“I didn’t want to be mean or send her to jail,” she explained.
But both Nataleigh and her mother said they believed by the performance that Kerenyi was corrupted by the oil and gas interests explained Monday.
Other attendees posed questions after the performance to Judge Lane.
Two questions after the morning session came from students concerning the legal process: what happens if you lie in court and what is an indictment?
“Lying in court is called perjury,” explained Lane. “If one is convicted of that offense you could be sentenced to up to 18 months in prison today.”
Magistrate Randall Jedlink, who played a witness for the prosecution Monday– S. Richard Shoup– said he participated in the performance for more than just the fun of it.
“It’s for a great cause as The Castle’s fundraiser, but it’s also great exposure to what a court process looks like,” he explained. “A lot of people probably have never been in a court setting before, and even though it’s dramatized here, that’s still a neat way to learn.”
Betsy Cook, of Lowell, said she attended because of her love of history.
“And I think it’s exciting to see history in action and hear stories that shaped how Marietta got to where it is today,” she said. “Plus I’m a history buff, so this is fun.”
Lane said diving into case histories like Monday’s performance has given him a greater perspective of the state of the country and its politics today.
“All of these cases tell me that what we’re experiencing today we’ve been through before and our democracy survived,” he said. “We need more lawyers and people who are not afraid to ask the tough questions and question everything. I hope this reminds us of that.”
The proceeds of History on Trial benefit the youth outreach programs of The Castle, including its history and archaeology camps each summer.
At a glance:
• The Castle Historic House Museum hosted its third annual History on Trial event Monday at the Washington County Courthouse.
• Performers of the mock trial included:
• The case, Bribery and Scandal in Marietta, was based on facts of a slew of indictments concerning oil and gas interests in Marietta.
• Though the trial performed Monday never actually occurred in Marietta, many of the issues ruled on in the case influenced evidentiary rules used in U.S. courts today.
Source: Times research.