One of the most interesting parts about Raj Rajaratnam’s trial at the U.S District courthouse in downtown Manhattan — ostensibly Clusterstock’s second home for the next six weeks — are the people who won’t admit why they’re there.
People who are attempting to go unnoticed; people who say: “I’m just an observer” or “just thought I’d take a look” or “just watching.”
I met my first Observer in line this morning, waiting to be escorted to the courtroom. He was a slim man wearing a felt grey coat, a checked scarf, glasses and he was reading a New Yorker. Watchless and Blackberry-less, I asked for the time and if there was a special area for press.
Yes, press were already being assembled upstairs, but only those with credentials. My NYPD press credentials still en route (we applied yesterday), I was doomed to wait in the “Raj Rajartnam overflow” line.
I asked the man if he was credential-less press too. He was not. “I’m just an observer,” he said, and went back to reading his magazine.
“Just an observer?” I prodded.
“I’m a lawyer.” Pause. “I’m part of a group of lawyers for another party… I represent another party that’s in the mix.”
In the mix = Raj’s trial obviously involves a ton of other defendants, and the wider Galleon probe, even more. This man obviously represented one such person. Or people.
He went on.
“There are a lot of people… companies… here.”
Ah. Of course. Characters from companies like Intel to Google to Hilton Hotels (whose stocks were traded based on alleged insider information) to hedge funds including Galleon and Spherix (who’s employees are implicated) to corporate behemoths like Goldman Sachs and McKinsey (who’s current and former partners may be called to testify), all have an interest in watching this trial with a hawk-eye.
Suddenly the courthouse took on a sinister spirit — I felt like there were coated, hatted individuals roaming the halls on every floor, looking for clues and intelligence to take back to more featureless faces at corporate headquarters across Manhattan. Obviously, I’ve watched too many movies… Or maybe I’ve just seen to many commercials for the new Matt Damon movie. Either way, I told myself to start thinking about Rajartnam’s cherub-like face and contented demeanor before I totally lost my cool.
Later on, as I was leaving the courtroom, three men in black coats walked out ahead of me. One of the men, with blonde slicked back hair, pressed the button for the elevator, and turned around and said something along the lines of — what a blast — drenched of course, in sarcasm.
“I’m waiting for the all the questions about Wall Street,” I said as we stepped into the elevator.
“Wall Street? Which questions?” the man said.
“Yeah, there’s a part of the questionnaire where they ask jurors if they’re biased against Wall Street, and if they think bankers are greedy, and if they think they’re dishonest… I cover Wall Street, so I think that will be interesting.”
The man nodded slowly, and said “yeah, it should be interesting.”
On the ground floor, we headed toward security to collect our confiscated electronics and I asked what they were doing here. A man with black, thinning hair — taller than the other two — in a Burberry-like tartan scarf said, “just watching.”
“No you’re not,” I said. “No-one comes here just to watch. And there’s three of you. You didn’t just drop by.”
“If you don’t mind, can I ask who you report for?”
“Business Insider. Now will you tell me who you work for.”
The man smiled and repeated his earlier refrain about just-being-here-to-take-a-look.
We walked through the revolving doors out onto Pearl Street.
“Look,” I said. “I know there are a ton of lawyers here for other defendants; people watching for companies. At least tell me which company you work for, off the record.”
He smiled and put on a black beanie, and said, “You’ll know who we are, soon enough.” And then the trio walked west, phones out and ear-poised, along Pearl Street.