By Jon Keller

BOSTON (CBS) – For the past five work days, I’ve been camped out in courtroom 907 at the Suffolk Superior Courthouse waiting for the jury to deliver its verdict in the conspiracy trial of former State Treasurer Tim Cahill. And while everyone – the attorneys for both sides, the court officers, and the Cahill family members and friends – has been very cordial, the tension is palpable.

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Maybe the same is true inside the jury room, which would explain the long deliberations. And if so, that shouldn’t come as a surprise.

If the people in the street I’ve talked with about this case over the past few weeks are any indication, there is some serious public ambivalence about the Cahill case.

When the new ethics laws that he and his former campaign manager are accused of violating were passed in 2009, there was a lot of public support for it. In fact, it was public outcry over a string of high-profile public corruption cases that helped pressure Beacon Hill to toughen up the ethics laws.

But now that the abstraction of that crackdown has been replaced by the reality of human beings facing ruin as a result of it, plenty of folks seem to be having second thoughts.

Did Cahill put his name or face in any of those lottery ads that he allegedly used to boost his run for governor, people ask me? No, he didn’t.

Is there any hard evidence proving that Cahill ordered the ads for political benefit, other than his underlings claiming he did? No, there isn’t.

And what I’m hearing, even from those who never were fans of Cahill, is: do we really want to waste a jail cell or two on something that doesn’t strike everyone as a crime at all?

Perhaps the Cahill jury is wrestling with these same questions. They aren’t there to pass judgment on the law, but to determine if it was broken.

But for the rest of us, the question raised is just as tough: did we all go overboard when we called for the criminalization of behavior that now may not seem so criminal after all?


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