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A juror in the Dougherty-Henon trial says it was a lesson in Philly government — ‘and it was appalling’

"The jury saw the good that Bobby Henon did. But they also realized that you can be good and still break the law," the juror said. “It was harder to have that kind of sympathy for John Dougherty.”

IBEW Local 98 leader John “Johnny Doc”  Dougherty talks to news media as he leaves the James A. Byrne United States Courthouse on Monday after the guilty verdict in his federal corruption trial.
IBEW Local 98 leader John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty talks to news media as he leaves the James A. Byrne United States Courthouse on Monday after the guilty verdict in his federal corruption trial.Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

They pored over hours of wiretapped phone conversations. They agonized over what prosecutors called a bribery scheme but the defense called good union representation. They felt for the families of the indicted men.

But at the end of 3½ days of closed-door deliberations, jurors were not only confident in their decision to convict labor leader John Dougherty and Councilmember Bobby Henon on bribery and other charges. They also walked away with an insider’s understanding of the halls of power, one told The Inquirer in an exclusive interview.

“This was a real lesson in Philadelphia civics and how Philadelphia government works — and it was appalling,” said the juror, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution from supporters of Dougherty and Henon.

After listening to five weeks of testimony in which the government alleged Dougherty had bought Henon with a $70,000 yearly salary for a do-nothing union job, the juror concluded that “there’s a lot of enabling of John Dougherty and Bobby Henon in City Hall.”

» READ MORE: John Dougherty resigns as head of IBEW Local 98 after his conviction on federal charges

The 12-member federal jury of seven women and five men was selected from a nine-county region across eastern Pennsylvania, and most lived outside the city. They varied in age, race, and profession — some were teachers, others with ties to the military and unions.

Jurors were not sequestered during the trial, although some voluntarily stayed in city hotels during the week. And they spent the last week of the trial being tested regularly for COVID-19 after one juror fell ill with the virus. Their roughly 20 hours of deliberations remained civil, the juror said, with the panel working through the charges, alleged schemes, and mountains of evidence government agents had spent years gathering: phone call transcripts, emails, texts, pay stubs, and receipts.

» READ MORE: What’s next for labor leader John Dougherty and City Councilmember Bobby Henon after bribery trial convictions

Charged with a decision that could upend the city’s politics and organized labor for years to come, they worked well as a group, the juror said, despite their varying backgrounds and views.

“It was a very difficult case for any jury. There were so many facts,” the juror said. “Everybody on the jury was decent, likable, open-minded. We were of different persuasions, in many ways, different political viewpoints. And we were just trying to really carefully listen to what the judge charged us with and determine the facts to the best of our ability as a group. That’s hard.”

The juror said many on the panel felt sympathy for Henon after his attorneys called character witnesses to vouch for the good he’s done in his Northeast Philadelphia district — from helping those experiencing homelessness, to rallying to keep Hahnemann Hospital open, to sponsoring events for city kids — since he was elected in 2012.

» READ MORE: Defense witnesses described Bobby Henon as ‘the hardest working councilmember’ as his federal bribery trial continues

“Those were really a testament to him,” the juror said. “But sadly, that wasn’t enough to overcome the facts of him giving in to John Dougherty too many times. Even when he was hesitant to do so, he did it. ... The jury saw the good that Bobby Henon did. But they also realized that you can be good and still break the law.”

The juror added: “It was harder to have that kind of sympathy for John Dougherty.”

Dozens of phone calls played at trial showed Dougherty to be short-tempered, foulmouthed, and at times domineering in his discussions with others. And as they delivered the verdict Monday before a courtroom packed with Dougherty’s and Henon’s families and union supporters, many on the panel were afraid of backlash once the decision was announced.

“The thing that was important to the jury was that we not let John Dougherty intimidate us,” the juror said. “That’s part of the problem.”

» READ MORE: Labor leader John Dougherty still has more legal problems

The juror said the group was grateful when U.S. District Judge Jeffrey L. Schmehl sternly told the courtroom that any reactions or outbursts to the verdict would not be tolerated. Schmehl’s tone, the juror said, “was a very reassuring one to the jury, because the jury was frightened of that, of the reaction.”

» READ MORE: What the jury decided on each count in the John Dougherty and Bobby Henon trial

Dougherty and Henon both wore face masks and sat stone-faced as the foreperson announced their fate: Dougherty guilty on eight charges, and Henon guilty on 10. A faint “whoa” was heard in the gallery, and some of their supporters began to quietly pray or held their heads in their hands.

As for the case itself, the juror said the panel found the lawyers on the case “very capable” but said the case became confusing when the attorneys bounced quickly between each of the various official actions prosecutors said Henon took at Dougherty’s request, listening one minute to testimony about the behind-the-scenes wrangling surrounding a Council vote on the soda tax, then bouncing in the next to calls detailing the union leader’s involvement in renegotiating the city’s franchise agreement with Comcast in 2015.

When it came to several of the alleged schemes — including one in which Dougherty pushed Henon to hold Council investigations on a tow truck company that had towed his car and another in which he plotted to use proposed legislation to secure the plumbers’ union vote in his race to lead the Building and Constructions Trade Council — the evidence showed that plans were made or resolutions drafted but not carried out. The juror said Henon’s failure to follow through originally split the jury’s thinking about whether or not to convict.

» READ MORE: These were the key issues jurors weighed in the John Dougherty and Bobby Henon trial

But ultimately, the juror said, the panel “felt that was enough because under the law, you didn’t have to actually complete the act, as long as it was your intent to undermine the people of Philadelphia to commit honest services fraud.”

The tearful testimony of defense witness Courtney Voss — Henon’s chief of staff with whom he was romantically involved — helped inform the jury of the inner workings of Henon’s office, the juror said, “but I think in the end she was probably a little too impassioned to be a neutral witness.”

The juror said a number of people on the panel felt that Henon’s 2015 Council hearing with Verizon was “kind of a witch trial” with other members of Council “piling on” the company reps in the public forum, but that the cable company embroiled in a labor dispute was also “not a totally innocent actor in all of this.”

And from Dougherty’s phone calls with Mayor Jim Kenney, to Deputy Mayor Rich Lazer’s testimony that he helped Dougherty in a towing pinch, to a wiretapped call between Councilmembers Helen Gym and Henon over reporting their free seats in the Local 98 box during an Eagles game, the juror called the inner workings of City Hall “distressing.”

» READ MORE: Why many Philly politicians still don’t want to talk about the convictions of ‘Johnny Doc’ and Councilmember Bobby Henon

The juror said members of Council should not be allowed to hold second jobs. “There’s always going to be a conflict of interest, even if the conflict of interest is only an issue of time,” the juror said. “I think the people of Philadelphia are getting shortchanged way too much by Council people who have other jobs.”

More than anything, though, the juror said, “[the trial] made me more aware than ever that Philadelphia politics has a lot of cleaning up to do.”