TRAFICANT CASE Motion objects to secret jury
The congressman wants jurors to be drawn from his district.
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
CLEVELAND -- U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr., in objecting to the seating of an anonymous jury, asserts that he isn't charged with obstruction of justice, but his indictment says otherwise.
"The prosecution contends that the pro se defendant has obstructed justice throughout their motions and submissions to the court -- yet the defendant is not yet charged with obstruction of justice," Traficant said of himself in an objection filed Monday in U.S. District Court. "The prosecution's attempt to influence the court with supposed obstruction of justice ... lends to a further argument to deny the empanelment of an anonymous jury."
A pro se defendant is one who acts as his own lawyer, which Traficant has chosen to do. His racketeering trial begins Feb. 4.
Count six of the congressman's indictment charges obstruction of justice. It alleges that, from Jan. 21 to Feb. 29, 2000, he tried to corruptly influence, obstruct and impede the administration of justice by endeavoring to persuade his administrative counsel to destroy evidence and to provide false testimony and information to a federal grand jury.
Argument for anonymity: The government, in its motion, said an anonymous jury is necessary because of extensive pretrial publicity -- most of which Traficant himself generated on talk radio -- and an allegation that he tampered with a grand jury witness.
"Continued heavy media coverage during the trial is a certainty," the government said. "Furthermore, this case involves allegations of dangerous and unscrupulous conduct."
At a final pretrial Jan. 4, Traficant didn't object to an anonymous jury but said the government had "gone too far."
An anonymous jury would keep jurors' names, addresses and places of employment secret from the defense, prosecution, U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells and the public. Only the jury commissioner would know their full identities.
Traficant's objections: In his latest objections, Traficant said that anonymity for jurors is highly prejudicial and will diminish their sense of responsibility.
The request by the prosecution for an anonymous jury also suggests that he is dangerous or may try to influence the outcome of the trial by intimidation, Traficant said. Jurors also will naturally assume that the judge made the order based on her predetermination that he is guilty and that jurors need protection.
Traficant, referring to his part in clearing Clevelander John Demjanjuk, once accused of being a Nazi death camp guard, said it's important, as a political figure, that he have information about jurors' ethnic and religious backgrounds.
In a new defense strategy, Traficant said it's up to the judge to know the law, even if he makes mistakes. He referred to numerous government responses that point out how he failed to cite case law and, because of it, should be denied whatever he sought.
"The court sits as the umpire would in a baseball game calling balls or strikes, whether the pitcher is a rookie or an undefeated all-star headed for the hall of fame," Traficant said.
He said common law recognizes and accepts, among other things, "an attorney who is so dumb he could throw himself at the ground and miss." The quote is a slight variation on a one-liner Traficant uses constantly.
Juror pool: In another brief, Traficant requested that potential jurors come from all counties in the Northern District of Ohio "with no exception."
As it stands, jurors are drawn by courthouse location. For Cleveland, that generally means Lorain, Cuyahoga, Lake and Geauga counties.
Traficant said that for Judge Wells to assume that the citizens of the district he represents -- Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties -- cannot make a fair and impartial decision would imply prejudice against him "and further give the government an unfair advantage."
Traficant successfully defended himself in 1983 against federal bribery charges when Mahoning County sheriff. At the time, he had two jurors from Warren and one from Girard on the panel.
List of questions: The congressman, in another filing, supplied 20 questions he wants on a jury questionnaire. Judge Wells will decide.
Traficant's questions deal with potential jurors' ethnic and religious backgrounds. He also wants to know about the ethnic and religious backgrounds of the prospective jurors' parents and spouses.
Traficant also wants to ask:
* "Do you vote?"
* "Are you a member of a political party?"
* "Have you ever contributed to a political party?"