Tuesday, June 12, 2012
The New York Times reported yesterday that Rajat K. Gupta, a former Goldman Sachs director on trial in the Southern District of New York for providing inside information to his friend and business colleague Raj Rajaratnam so that Rajaratnam could make trades based on those tips, will not testify, according to a letter his highly respected lawyer, Gary Naftalis, submitted to the court on Sunday night. See here. The prior Friday, Mr. Naftalis told the court and the prosecutors it was "highly likely" that Mr. Gupta would testify. I was quite surprised by that declaration and even suspected that it might be a feint to divert prosecutorial resources from the preparation of cross-examination of other witnesses and the summation to preparation for the cross-examination of Mr. Gupta. (While I personally have never made such a feint, I have on occasion considered doing it.)
The government's case against Mr. Gupta is a circumstantial one -- essentially a pattern of incidents in which Mr. Gupta allegedly received secret information at board meetings and very shortly thereafter telephoned Mr. Rajaratnam, and Mr. Rajaratnam then placed trades based on the matters discussed at the board meeting. Most of the critical evidence -- Mr. Gupta's presence at the board meetings at which the information in question was discussed, his calls to Mr. Rajaratnam and Mr. Rajaratnam's firm's trading -- are virtually irrefutable. On the other hand, there is no "smoking gun" in the form of testimony or recordings as to what was said in the critical conversations.
On the witness stand, Mr. Gupta would no doubt be thoroughly and harshly cross-examined on whatever explanation he provided about the substance and timing of the phone calls. Interrogation about these repeated events would allow the prosecutors in effect an extra summation to hammer on these facts, indeed perhaps even better than a summation since the defendant would have to respond directly to each of the allegations, whereas in summation an attorney would have the option of ignoring, glossing over or generalizing about all or portions of the evidence.
In any case, white-collar or not, I believe that when a defendant testifies, the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt is diluted. Jurors, rather than asking themselves whether the prosecutor has proved the case beyond a reasonable doubt, focus more on whether the defendant probably told the truth.
I would not be surprised if Mr. Gupta's legal team had spent much of this past weekend cross-examining him and trying to convince him that the better choice for him was to decline to testify. The decision whether to testify is one of the very few that virtually all lawyers, and all ethics rules, decree belongs ultimately to the client. It is often difficult to convince white collar clients, especially those whose egos have become enlarged because of their extreme success, that they will be unable to convince a jury.
While my reading leads me to believe that this is a difficult case for the defense, I believe Mr. Gupta's decision not to testify is a correct one. A similar decision seems to have worked for John Edwards.