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TRAFICANT CASE Judge rejects secrecy for jury



Published: Wed, January 16, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The congressman won't have jurors from his district.

By PATRICIA MEADE

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

CLEVELAND -- A federal judge says U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. has been called many things, but "dangerous" is not one of them, so there's no need to keep his jurors' identities secret.

U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells issued the order Tuesday denying the government's request to conceal jurors' names, addresses and places of employment. The government, in its motion, had said an anonymous jury was necessary because of extensive pretrial publicity and an allegation that Traficant, of Poland, D-17, tampered with a grand jury witness.

Explanation: "The defendant is a United States congressman. He has not displayed any 'dangerous' conduct in these proceedings, nor are there any allegations of 'dangerous' conduct on his part," Judge Wells said in her order. "Despite the fact that this case has attracted some pretrial publicity, members of the press have conducted themselves responsibly and with respect for the integrity of the court proceedings."

The judge acknowledged that Traficant's 10-count indictment contains an obstruction of justice charge involving tampering with a grand jury witness, but noted that there are no allegations that he has a "serious criminal record."

Traficant, whose racketeering trial begins Feb. 4, said in an objection filed Monday that anonymity for jurors is highly prejudicial and will diminish their sense of responsibility. Juror anonymity, he said, would also suggest that he is dangerous or may try to influence the outcome of the trial by intimidation.

Jurors also will naturally assume that the judge made the order based on her predetermination that he is guilty and jurors need protection, the congressman said in his objection.

Ruling against Traficant: In a second order issued Tuesday, the judge denied as untimely a motion Traficant filed Monday to have jurors drawn from all counties in the Northern District of Ohio. He said 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."

The deadline for pretrial motions was Jan. 9.

Judge Wells explained that, even if his motion had been timely, she would have denied it. According to a juror selection plan, jurors for Cleveland's federal court are drawn from the following counties: Ashland, Ashtabula, Crawford, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain, Medina and Richland.

"Traficant, like all other criminal defendants, will have a juror pool selected through this system," the judge said in her order.

Judge Wells was chosen to preside over Traficant's case by random draw. It could have been assigned to judges who preside in either Akron or Youngstown federal courts.

Jurors and alternates who will hear the evidence against Traficant will be escorted to and from the courthouse in a vehicle provided at the court's expense, Judge Wells said in another order. Court officers also will escort jurors and alternates to lunch, and their meals will be paid for by the court.

meade@vindy.com




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