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There are more than 120 people who may be witnesses or mentioned during the trial.



Published: Tue, February 12, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



There are more than 120 people who may be witnesses or mentioned during the trial.

By PATRICIA MEADE

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

CLEVELAND -- Don't be surprised if a jury is seated today for U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr.'s corruption trial.

Don't be surprised if it's not.

The process slogged into its sixth day today, with U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells hopeful that the end is near. She had expected to finish the selection process Monday, but at 4 p.m., she still had questions to ask a few prospective jurors and sent the rest home.

Out of more than 60 prospective jurors, only four were sent away by 5 p.m. Monday. The number has to be whittled to 12 jurors and six alternates.

Traficant filed a second motion Monday that challenges release of the questionnaires to the press. Judge Wells denied a similar motion he filed last week that he labeled "jury tampering" after The Vindicator profiled one juror.

He also filed a motion asking that his indictment be dismissed because the jurors drawn do not come from his district, denying him a jury of his peers. He asked for a hearing.

Judge Wells said she would rule on the motions today. She has denied similar motions.

The judge must also consider a government motion to question via videotape in Florida a key witness who has cancer, a maneuver Traficant has opposed.

Questioning continues: This morning, the judge, Traficant and the prosecution team were to pose more questions about bias, health problems and press coverage to the remaining pool drawn from the Cleveland area.

One juror expressed an opinion today that it's a "sin to steal." He explained that someone in public office shouldn't take advantage of the position. Another prospective juror was asked about her back problems.

Judge Wells said, "You've been sitting in Scandinavian benches." The judge said that as jurors, they would sit in padded chairs, which offer more comfort than the wooden benches in the gallery.

Jurors will be excused for cause (good reason) today, with the judge making the final decisions.

After that, pre-emptory challenges -- or strikes -- will take place, with each side allowed to eliminate jurors without giving a reason.

Traficant, of Poland, D-17th, has 13 total strikes. The government has nine.

When Traficant arrived this morning, he said that he didn't have a chance to review which jurors he might strike -- saying that he went to sleep after doing an interview with CBS News, which is expected to air tonight.

Effect of Demjanjuk case: Traficant will likely try to strike people of Jewish descent, said Roger M. Synenberg, a Cleveland defense attorney and former assistant U.S. attorney. Synenberg said Traficant has made that clear in his statements to the press.

Traficant has said some label him an anti-Semite because of the way he rushed to the aid of John Demjanjuk, a Cleveland autoworker. Demjanjuk had once been accused of being "Ivan the Terrible," a Nazi death-camp guard, but was acquitted in a trial in Israel.

The congressman had wanted to know prospective jurors' religious and ethnic backgrounds. Judge Wells declined to include such questions on the 42-page jury questionnaire.

When asked by Judge Wells, nearly the entire jury pool acknowledged being aware of Demjanjuk, but said their impartiality would not be affected. They also said their political persuasion would not cause a problem.

Hearty laughter erupted when the judge asked: "Do you believe the government to always be truthful?"

Traficant, who has butted heads with Judge Wells since the trial began Feb. 5, appeared demure, almost deferential. He was on his best behavior when the prospective jurors were seated in the gallery for questioning, a follow-up to responses they gave on the questionnaires.

Here's one question the former high school and college quarterback submitted to the jury pool: "If you are a Browns fan and I was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers, would you harbor resentment toward me?"

Again, the courtroom erupted in laughter, and a resounding "No" followed from the prospective jurors seated in the gallery.

Demeanor: The congressman, who complained last week of having the flu, asked for two short breaks Monday and appeared out of sorts. He moved slowly throughout the day.

Traficant, 60, comes to court without an overcoat, hat, gloves, boots or scarf. He wears mostly denim jackets and denim bell-bottoms and, despite the frigid air, will stand and give press interviews until his ride, a red GMC Jimmy, arrives.

Danette R. Palmer, on his staff since February 1999, has been his driver. She also helped with review of the jury questionnaires and takes notes for him.

After court Monday, as he waited for Palmer, he removed a large white bandage from his right index finger, showing reporters how he almost cut off the tip with a saw while cutting a piece of wood. The demonstration, he said, was done to prove that the bandage wasn't a "ploy for sympathy."

Traficant acknowledged being worn down by the trial. "Anybody who wouldn't get worn down wouldn't be human."

Jury instructions: Once she has impaneled a jury, Judge Wells will read a lengthy list of jury instructions. The instructions will reveal the government's case and how jurors should consider the evidence presented.

Last month, the prosecution team submitted 94 pages of proposed instructions. Traficant filed a one-liner: "Pro se defendant requests that the court be fair, unbiased and unprejudiced."

Judge Wells didn't hold out much hope that the trial could proceed to opening statements today.

Witness list: She read a list of more than 120 names Monday of people who may be called as witnesses or just mentioned during the trial. Several of Traficant's current and former staff members are listed.

The congressman is accused of taking kickbacks from staffers and having other congressional employees do work at his horse farm in Greenford. He's also accused of shaking down businessmen, such as J.J. Cafaro of Liberty, who's on the list, as is his daughter, Capri Cafaro, and brother, Anthony Cafaro.

The Cafaro Co. develops shopping malls.

It's not clear if any of the names on the list were submitted by Traficant. The judge asked him more than once to supply his witness list, if he had one.

When asked by reporters today about his witness list, Traficant said, "No, I don't have any list."

The congressman said that he might call witnesses even though he doesn't have to, and that he's not going to notify anyone of who those witnesses might be.

"A defendant does not have an obligation to put on a defense," said Synenberg, the Cleveland lawyer and former federal prosecutor. It could create a problem, though, if Traficant didn't supply a list and calls a defense witness who ends up having some connection to a juror.

People mentioned as witnesses and not called cause jurors to wonder why, Synenberg said.

meade@vindy




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