Thursday, October 23, 2008

Another Juror Might Get Off the Bus

Live from the Ted Stevens Trial, Day 22

Washington, D.C.--

More jury problems are unveiled, this time at an after-hours hearing. The judge advises that another juror—NOT the one who the other 11 jurors asked to be removed today—has told court staff that she needs to leave to deal with a relative who is ill or has passed away. The relative is apparently in Texas.

The judge recesses the hearing to try to call the juror, but he can’t reach her and returns to the courtroom.

Judge Emmet Sullivan announces that he will bring in Alternate Juror # 1 tomorrow at 9 a.m. to be questioned about her suitability to come in as a replacement. He orders the attorneys for both sides to provide briefing no later than 7 a.m. tomorrow—less than 12 hours away—on (a) what questions Alternate # 1 should be asked and (b) the legal issues of proceeding with an 11-member jury.

The defense wants to discuss aspects of these issues at the bench without having the audience hear. With the confidence of a man who has covered many trials in this courthouse and is about to leave the trial beat to work on investigations, Associated Press reporter Matt Apuzzo gets up in the audience and objects to the secrecy. The judge mentions that there are privacy concerns, and lets Apuzzo expound on the need for openness. The 29-year-old Apuzzo functions as the dean of the press corps covering this trial, and any list of up-and-comers showing themselves at these proceedings would have to include him as well as Beth Stewart, the stylishly effective attorney for Sen. Stevens who graduated from law school only three years ago.

Despite the rumor that the jury would be let off tomorrow as essentially a cooling-off period, the judge will bring the jurors in tomorrow. What is less clear is who will be on the panel. The juror whose civility has been questioned by her fellows (Juror # 9) may have patched it up with fellow jurors and continue her service, but it’s entirely possible that Juror # 4 (the one who appears to have the family issue) may not be able to continue deliberating. Speculation after the hearing was that the Stevens defense team would like to have the trial proceed with only 11 jurors as opposed to adding Alternate #1 to replace Juror # 4.

Also notable at the after-hours hearing was the imbalance in legal resources, at least for the night. The prosecution was represented only by Joe Bottini in a high-quality casual shirt and slacks, while at one point Sen. Stevens was represented by nine attorneys in business suits—six at the defense table and three on the bench. Eight of them stayed throughout the hearing, including the period when the judge went to make the telephone call to the juror headed to Texas. That figure of $175,000 a week I gave as my rock-bottom estimate of the cost of the defense? Take that up to $200,000 per week, easy.

Administrative note: While not covering on this blog or on the radio the procedural fencing over the jury panel, your blogger continues to labor on the reports on closing arguments. Please remain calm and civil.

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