This past week at the federal criminal trial of three former Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) executives was marked by at least two events. First, away from the jury, a dispute between the government and former corporate lawyers for PCA was teed up for Judge W. Louis Sands. It is now hanging there for a ruling like a ripe piece of fruit. Second, the former PCA operations manager took the witness stand for several days of testimony. Daniel W. Kilgore is the PCA insider who struck a secret plea deal with the government four days before those on trial were indicted. Like Samuel Lightsey, the former Blakely, GA, plant manager, Kilgore entered guilty pleas in exchange for consideration at sentencing. And, like Lightsey, his testimony is tedious in its detail. He spent most of six days on the stand, and a wire service reporter covering the trial captured just how laborious testimony from the government’s key witnesses can be. Much of Lightsey’s time was spent helping prosecutors get one set of documents after another admitted as evidence with questions and answers being repeated like this: Prosecutor: “Mr. Lightsey, do you recognize these documents?” Lightsey: “I do.” Prosecutor: “How do you recognize them?” Lightsey: “I recognize them from my time at Peanut Corporation of America.” And then that exchange is repeated for the next set of documents. Since the government indicted former PCA owner Stewart Parnell, his peanut broker brother Michael, and Mary Wilkerson, the company’s manager of quality control at Blakely, this case has been recognized for its “complexity.” And this goes beyond the microbiological data that’s involved. The charges of conspiracy, interstate shipments fraud, violations of the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act, and obstruction of justice require the government to prove that 11 different food industry customers “incurred monetary losses” from doing business with PCA and being on the receiving end of adulterated and misbranded products as a result of fraudulent paperwork that backed up the product. That’s where Lightsey’s and Kilgore’s testimony have come in. The prosecution has to hope it lays down enough evidentiary detail without putting the jury’s brains to sleep. What is not clear at this point in the trial is just how badly the prosecution needs statements that the Parnells and Wilkerson might have made to PCA corporate attorneys after the Salmonella outbreak. This was from back when they were dealing with civil litigation from outbreak victims and their families. Since the defendants “lawyered up” early, the prosecution is looking for statements that might substitute for what the defendants might have said if they were interviewed during the criminal investigation. Are those statements critical to the prosecution or icing on the cake? Big national law firms involved want the government subpoena for those documents quashed because, they say, handing stuff over to the prosecution would violate attorney-client and work product privileges. For lawyers, those privileges are right up there with the family jewels. That’s probably why the trial judge asked the government to make another run at arguments against quashing the subpoenas to the corporate law firms and their attorneys. Department of Justice (DOJ) attorney Patrick H. Hearn took on the assignment. He is one of the three prosecutors in the PCA criminal case. Hearn says that no lawyer-client privilege is involved because none of the three former PCA executives were represented as individuals, just the corporation. He also says it isn’t work product if a lawyer is just collecting facts. In reading his “supplemental response,” this non-lawyer could not help but think Hearn used the old Star Wars strategy. We all remember this exchange involving Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi, don’t we? BEN: You don’t need to see his identification. TROOPER: We don’t need to see his identification. BEN: These are not the droids you’re looking for. TROOPER: These are not the droids we’re looking for. BEN: He can go about his business. TROOPER: You can go about your business. BEN: (to Luke) Move along. It will be fascinating to see if the “These are not the droids you’re looking for” argument gets the prosecution what it wants. Finally, it was great to see this week that victims of the 2008-09 Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak also got some national attention while the trial continues in Albany, GA. Check out this report from Moni Basu of CNN.