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Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.


The judicial system is a fundamental, foundational component of our democracy. A "cornerstone," according to U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger, who along with his dogged colleagues responded swiftly to an alleged $120,000 bribery attempt in the Feeding Our Future trial. Five people have been charged, three of whom were already on trial in the broader case.

"This is a chilling attack on our justice system," Luger told an editorial writer. A system, he noted, that relies on lawyers, judges and juries "who determine the facts based on evidence" — and a jury system in particular that's "one of the cornerstones of our democracy [that] ensures the rule of law and ensures fairness for all.

"This attack, as alleged, was an attempt to corrupt one of those cornerstones of our democracy."

But the metaphorical cornerstone, like literal ones, was strong and upheld the edifice of justice essential to society.

That's in part because Juror 52, the diligent citizen targeted with the alleged bribe, immediately called police. And in part because Luger's office and the FBI immediately went back to work and, as Luger described, "put their nose to the grindstone to get to the bottom of this." Everyone, he continued, "recognized time was of the essence. It was important to determine who did this, how they did it. One, to hold them accountable. But also to send a clear message that you simply cannot get away with this. And I'm really proud of that."

He and his colleagues should be. And Minnesotans should be proud of them, as well as the other official participants in the trial who Luger lauded for their belief "in the fairness and sanctity of the jury system" and "common interest in an independent, free and fair jury."

Attempts to tamper with juries are rare — and must remain that way.

Luger said his only indirect, similar experience was in New York in the 1980s with mafia attempts to corrupt jurors. "My takeaway here is we now have to recognize that people who engage in a massive scheme to defraud may be capable of worse, and we have to protect our system, as we have done here."

The scheme to defraud is at the heart of the Feeding Our Future case. Actually, cases, as upcoming trials await scores more defendants in the alleged $250 million pandemic-era fraud of federal programs meant to feed people in need. Of the 70 charged, 18 already pleaded guilty, seven were just tried (with five found guilty). The publicity surrounding the case itself, let alone the alleged bribery, may make it more difficult to find jurors for future cases. But that shouldn't impede the imperative to protect jurors — and the system itself.

"This has happened once," Luger said. "I hope it doesn't happen again. But hope is not a strategy. We, collectively — lawyers, prosecutors, defense lawyers and judges — all need to go forward with our eyes open with carefully thought-out ideas to protect the system."

Luger declined to provide a specific prescriptive on anonymous juries or the option of sequestering them in future Feeding Our Future cases, or any other cases under his office's jurisdiction. The justice system "should not overreact," he said, but also "cannot underreact."

Another aspect the judicial, but also political and societal, system must react to is the way those charged allegedly tried to leverage race in their appeal to Juror 52. Among the documents found in a defendant's phone is what amounts to an instruction manual for the juror, including a suggestion that they were targeted because of their social status. "We are immigrants: they don't respect and care about us," it allegedly said.

Luger's response: "False claims of racism to further a crime are dangerous and must be called out, as we have done here."

Getting to the bottom of the alleged bribery attempt, as well as the broader fraud, are key to keeping, or in many cases restoring, citizens' trust in government that has been understandably shaken by this entire sordid episode.

"Our focus in this case," concluded Luger, "on holding people accountable for this massive fraud they committed is an essential part of the work that this office can do, along with our federal law enforcement partners, to show people that government works, the Department of Justice works, federal law enforcement works."

That work is itself a vital cornerstone to our democracy and Minnesotans are fortunate to have public servants like Luger and his colleagues dedicated to protecting it.