DIXON TRIAL: The Play's the Thing 

Reportedly, there was, during the supposed “witch-hunt” days of the McCarthyite ‘50s, a certain cachet that went with being targeted as a security risk – or, at the very least, with being the subject of rumors attesting to one’s having – maybe -- been part of a once modish political current.

It had nothing to do with Left, Right, Communism, Capitalism, Republican, Democrat --any of those things. In fact, to the degree that there really was a subversive movement (and there was) the subpoena envy of the time was entirely an affliction of the innocent and the wannabes. The political career (and much of the literary product) of Norman Mailer -- a literary leftist, if there ever was one -- cannot be understood without realizing this.

To judge by the number of names that were dropped in the first three days of the Roscoe Dixon extortion trial, something like this malady is about to afflict the political and civic spheres of Greater Memphis. – maybe even of Tennessee at large.

Most of those who have figured so far – in testimony, in transcripts, in surveillance videotapes and audiotapes – are not there with any taint of criminal culpability, actual or hypothetical. The few who are so incriminated (including a key legislator or two) have the principals in the drama to thank for that – mainly undercover informant Tim Willis and “cooperating witness” Barry Myers, both world-class motor mouths. But …so long as no indictment comes of it, all they have to worry about is the embarrassment, and this, too, will pass.

But scores of other names of currently active public figures have been tossed around. as well: the Harold Fords (Jr. and Sr.), Mike Kernell, Sidney Chism, Jay Bailey, Ron Redwing, J.W. Gibson, Dick Lodge, Wanda Halbert, Paul Stanley, Curtis Person, A C Wharton, Bill Gibbons, Steve Cohen, Joe Kent, Jim Kyle Jackie Welch, Ron Belz, Karl Schledwitz….Many readers will recognize these as the names of highly influential people, in and out of government. As for those who don’t – well, take our word for it.

The list goes on and on: Civil servants of various kinds -- city, county, state – and everyday activists like Jerry Hall, G.A. Hardaway, John Freeman – even the latter’s mother, Lois Freeman, in connection with her being in the hospital with an illness. Freeman’s longtime running mate, David Upton, has to be wondering – with some disappointed covetousness – when his name will turn up via tape or testimony on t h is Who's Who list.

To tell you the truth, the thought crossed my mind that my own name might (in my role as faithful chronicler of public matters, including legislative ones, you understand). But naaah, I didn’t know Barry Myers at all in his fateful role as factotum to state senator Dixon (I did seek him out when he was being considered last year as an interim successor to Dixon, who had gone to work for Shelby County mayor Wharton), and had only a superficial acquaintance with Willis, who – get this, signed a “Personal Services Agreement” with the government to go get some goods on people like Myers and Dixon who had befriended and trusted him. Upwards of $150,000 for a couple of years’ work.

Ah well, why should I be judgmental, when Dixon himself isn’t? Upon learning that Willis was due to testify on Friday, Roscoe (whom I do know) confided during a break, “I’d be interested to see ol’ Tim.” And, after Willis had testified all afternoon toward the end, presumably, of putting Dixon away, the former senator said only, “He looked real sharp,” commenting on the nifty threads and bold tie of the witness, who is said to have spent time in California of late, with an eye on cracking the movie business.

Willis is, of course, the star and unbilled director of much of the video, incriminating to the accused, which has been seen in court. Parts of the plot, as of last week, remained obscure, however – such as Willis’ claim that it was Myers and Dixon, not himself, who initiated talk of trading money (the FBI’s) for influence (Dixon’s).

Maybe it doesn’t matter legally, and presiding judge Jon McCalla will certainly instruct the jury on the wherefores of it all, but the image that recurs to some of us lay folks is that of the undercover cop posing as a hooker. We know from all the procedural dramas we've seen that she has to wait for the john to suggest a deal. If she initiates such talk on her own, it’s entrapment.

That’s how it goes in the movies, anyhow – though this drama, with its large and impressive cast of characters and high-profile audience and different set of rules (whereby it matters whether a defendant has been "predicated," i.e., shown to have a predisposition toward the crime he's charged with), may turn out differently.

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