President Carter's close friend and former budget director, T. Bertram Lance, is relying heavily on his ties with the President to help convince a jury here that he is not guilty of bank fraud.
Two years after he was forced to leave his White House post because of a Senate probe into his financial affairs, Mr. Lance has finally got his day in court.
Speaking directly to the jury, he explained his work record (including at one time sweeping floors at a bank in Calhoun, Ga.), but with emphasis on his service to Jimmy Carter, first when Mr. Carter was Governor of Georgia and later when he became President.
No sooner had he begun his testimony than his defense attorney interrupted it to permit Lillian Carter, the President's mother, to testify briefly about Mr. Lance's character. There was a hush in the packed courtroom as she entered from a side room and was ushered to the witness stand. She identified herself as "a housewife and a campaigner."
"Mr. Lance, to me, is quite a man," she said softly into the microphone.
Asked about his qualities of honesty and integrity, she added: "I think he has more of all those than anyone I know."
She was not asked about any details of the case.
Just what impression such an appearance had on the jury is difficult to measure now. Clearly, the federal prosecutors are concerned about impressions -- as opposed to the complex facts -- that the jury may be focusing on.
At one point, prosecutor Edwin Tomko complained to the judge about the "atmosphere" in the courtroom. Laughter had just broken out not only among Mr. Lance's family and friends, but also among many of the jurors, as defense attorney Nichlas Chilivis won a pint with the judge regarding a blackboard presentation he was making. The presentation was intended to refute government figures against Mr. Lance.
"This borders on theatrics," Mr. Tomko charged with frustration.
Ten of 22 alleged illegal acts charged against Mr. Lance have been dismissed by Judge Charles Moye Jr. for lack of evidence. However, he is still charged with making unsound and reckless loans and with lying about his net worth to get loans that the government contends he wouldn't have negotiated if the facts had been known.
Mr. Lance told jurors here that the government omitted some assets in calculating his net worth. The prosecution will probe such claims on cross-examination later in the trial.
Mr. Lance set up a financial partnership with his wife that the government alleges was to hide some of his liabilities. But he argued here April 10 that the partnership was set up to enable him to donate to charities without the public knowing about it.