The judge is the final arbiter on whether a question is relevant or proper.
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
CLEVELAND -- U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. has some incendiary questions that could burn government witnesses -- if he gets the chance to ask them.
Traficant's long-awaited trial began today after a judge at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati denied a motion Monday to stop the trial from beginning.
In his request Friday to halt the trial, the congressman had claimed constitutional protection from certain documents' being used as evidence.
Today, the only business in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells was roughly 100 prospective jurors' telling their life story on a 40-plus-page questionnaire. Jury selection could take until Friday.
After witnesses undergo direct examination by the prosecution team, Traficant, as the lawyer in his own racketeering case, will cross-examine them. He also has the opportunity to call defense witnesses.
The prosecution team doesn't want Traficant to phrase his questions in such a way that he "testifies" without taking the witness stand.
Judge Wells is the final arbiter when it comes to the relevance and propriety of questions Traficant and prosecutors ask during trial. If she rules that a question by either side is improper, she will not permit the witness to answer and will tell the jury to disregard it.
Hearing denied: Traficant, of Poland, D-17th, revealed part of his defense strategy when he filed a list of questions he had wanted to ask the lead prosecutor, Craig S. Morford, at an evidentiary hearing. Judge Wells denied the congressman's request for the hearing.
The questions, though, remain.
The congressman may now try to rework the questions and ask the individuals to whom his accusations pertain, such as developer J.J. Cafaro of Liberty. The businessman pleaded guilty to giving Traficant cash and gifts in return for promotion of Cafaro's laser-guidance technology developed by USAerospace Group in Virginia.
Questions: Traficant's questions pertaining to Cafaro include:
UWere you offered no jail time or reduced jail time if you provided coerced, false statements against Mr. Traficant?
UWere you threatened with indictment for committing perjury at the trial of former Mahoning County Sheriff Phil Chance if you did not come up with a crime against Mr. Traficant?
UWas the Cafaro Company [mall developers] threatened with an IRS audit?
UWas your daughter, Capri Cafaro, as president of USAG, threatened with indictment unless you said what the government wanted to hear about Traficant?
Another prosecution witness, Boardman attorney R. Allen Sinclair, has not been charged with a crime. Traficant hired Sinclair and rented office space on Overhill Road in Boardman from Sinclair's wife.
The government said Sinclair kicked back $2,500 of his congressional salary to Traficant each month for 13 months.
Traficant's questions pertaining to Sinclair include:
UWere you threatened with disbarment if you didn't say that those were kickbacks, not loans, to Jim Traficant?
UWere you threatened with indictment for fraud involving ownership of the property on Overhill Road?
James R. Sabatine, who once owned Hardrives Paving and Construction in Mineral Ridge, pleaded guilty to paying Traficant a $2,400 bribe. The Canfield man also has admitted bribing William P. Fergus, a former Mahoning County Engineer .
Traficant's questions related to Sabatine include:
UWere you threatened with a racketeering offense and told your attorney fees would be several hundred thousand dollars if you did not agree with the government's agenda on Traficant?
UWere you threatened with absolute imprisonment for bribing Fergus if you didn't say what the government needed you to say against Jim Traficant?
Prosecution's request: The government has asked Judge Wells to hold Traficant to the same standards as any attorney, and they don't want him to refer to himself in the first person ("I") when asking questions. If his disruptive behavior puts the trial in peril, prosecutors want the judge to give him a lawyer.
The case against the 60-year-old congressman includes witnesses with plea agreements and others compelled to testify to whom immunity from prosecution has been granted. Traficant, the government said, should not be allowed to use cross-examination to make "scurrilous and unsubstantiated allegations regarding witnesses."