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REP. TRAFICANT Next phase in jury choice



Published: Mon, February 11, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Traficant can eliminate 10 prospective jurors and three alternates without a reason.

By PATRICIA MEADE

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

CLEVELAND -- An Arab-American woman who says she knows of U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. and likes him was excused from the jury pool today.

The woman, when questioned today by U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells, said it may be hard to change her opinion of the congressman. She said she respects him and added that he has been fair with Arab-Americans.

"I like the guy," she said.

The woman told the judge that she doesn't know if she could find Traficant guilty.

Once the prospective juror left the courtroom, Traficant quipped, "Only jurors who like me are gonna be excused."

Motion denied: Before the questioning of jurors this morning, Judge Wells denied a motion Traficant had filed Friday that alleged jury tampering. He objected to a Vindicator story that profiled one juror based on the answers on the questionnaire by the 20-year-old Conneaut janitor.

Traficant told Judge Wells that he wanted to ask jurors today if they were aware that their answers were released to the press. She refused to allow that question to be asked and said, "Oh, Congressman, let's get on with the jurors. We're not going to delay empaneling."

Traficant stood and said, "In that regard -- ."

Judge Wells cut him off midsentence and said, "In that regard, you can be seated."

Traficant had the weekend to reflect on the adage "You never get a second chance to make a first impression."

The Jury Research Institute Web site offers this caution about the jury selection process to defense attorneys, a role Traficant hasn't played in 19 years:

"Since the [prospective] jurors are forming impressions of you and your case, remember, first impressions are lasting. They also affect what happens to incoming information. People accept subsequent information from a source they view as credible, and reject information from discredited speakers. A positive first impression will give you a halo of credibility and open the door for the prospective jurors to believe you and your witnesses. A negative first impression will do exactly the opposite."

Traficant, of Poland, D-17th, has assumed the role of attorney for the next eight weeks as he again defends himself against racketeering charges. As Mahoning County sheriff in 1983, he won acquittal defending himself.

Based on answers supplied on a jury questionnaire, 35 prospective jurors drawn for Traficant's case were eliminated Friday, leaving 68. Prospective jurors eliminated so far had health problems, bias or religious beliefs that disqualified them.

Face-to-face questioning: Today, the selection of 12 jurors and six alternates continued with face-to-face contact. Traficant, Judge Wells and the prosecution team participate in the selection process, which can include asking prospective jurors to expand on answers they gave on the questionnaires.

The congressman has 13 "strikes," meaning he can eliminate 10 prospective jurors and three prospective alternates without giving a reason.

The prosecution team -- Craig S. Morford, Bernard A. Smith and Matthew B. Kall -- can strike six prospective jurors and three prospective alternates.

Judge Wells is the final arbiter in eliminating jurors not stricken by prosecutors or Traficant.

Morford said Friday that he wanted to ask detailed questions about "press exposure" of the prospective jurors. The lead prosecutor has voiced concern to Judge Wells about Traficant's talking to reporters, and the judge has warned him to refrain.

"Don't be overly dramatic and don't go out of character. Be real, be human. Demonstrate your convictions," the Jury Research Institute, a California-based corporation, advises defense attorneys.

It continues that if the selection process is "haphazard or half-hearted, jurors will undoubtedly draw negative inferences about you and your client's case."

Personality types: The Jury Research Institute recommends determining, through questions and observation, how influential any given juror is likely to be during jury deliberations by identifying these personalities:

UPersuaders: Leaders and coalition builders who will offer facts from the trial during deliberations. Persuaders are generally men in their 40s, but can be women, too.

UParticipants: Verbal, responsive and will offer opinions rather than facts during deliberations.

UNonparticipants: Say very little, passive and clearly followers.

The institute recommends not going through the jury selection process alone, but being assisted by co-counsel, paralegal, or consultant. Someone else is needed to record potential jurors' replies and help observe their behavior.

When the selection process began today, 41 women and 27 men remained eligible to sit on Traficant's jury.

There are none from Mahoning, Trumbull or Columbiana counties, something Traficant continues to challenge, saying it violates his right to a trial by a jury of his peers. He also has accused prosecutors of trying to seat an all-white jury and the judge of siding with them.

Files motions: Traficant arrived in court this morning with several motions to file, one of which is an appeal of the jury selection process.

He filed a motion asking that his indictment be dismissed. He asserts that his right to be tried by a jury of his peers has been violated. He states that the current plan to draw jurors, which excludes those from his area, was not approved until June 24, 2001, which he says was after his May 4 indictment.

A grand jury, however, indicted Traficant and a co-defendant in a superceding indictment in late October.

The congressman also filed another motion about the release of questionnaires to the press.

He also asked Judge Wells to deny the government's request to depose by videotape in Florida a key witness who has cancer.

The congressman's race concerns made international news, with The Guardian, a newspaper in the United Kingdom, carrying the story Sunday in its online edition.

About jury pool: The youngest prospective juror, meanwhile, is a 20-year-old cashier from Eastlake who described herself on the questionnaire as liberal but circled no political party affiliation. She's single, earns between $10,000 and $19,999 annually, knows virtually nothing about the case, and indicated a desire to serve on the jury.

At 67, a Cleveland homemaker with six children is the oldest prospective juror. She described herself on the questionnaire as a conservative Democrat and knows a bit about the case.

Of those remaining in the jury pool, most (70 percent) are over 40, with an average age of 50. Of the 68 contenders, there are 33 Democrats, 15 Republicans and 20 who listed no political party affiliation on their questionnaires.

A wide variety of fields, from engineer, cook and truck driver, to secretary, teacher and computer technician, are represented. The salary range is $10,000 to $150,000.

meade@vindy.com




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