Libby jury selection: Bad day for elite schools, journalist reaches 2nd round

Updated
 

 This is day #2 of jury selection, and it has become another bad day for a few of America’s elite universities.  This morning, a young woman with degrees from Swarthmore and Emory University said she had no opinion about the Bush Administration’s case for war with Iraq.  She also said she never watches the news or reads the paper, and said she would consider Vice President Cheney “a perfect stranger.”  Yesterday, a potential juror with two degrees from Northwestern, including one in journalism, said she thought she knew something about the CIA leak case but “couldn’t recall anything.”  When asked about the types of stories she covered as a graduate school journalist, that woman repeatedly said, “I don’t really remember…just stuff at the court, stuff at the city council.”  Asked what else?  She said, “Other stuff.”  Asked to be more specific, she said “I don’t remember.  It was a bunch of stuff.”  This exchange prompted endless teasing of one of my journalism colleagues covering the trial who is a Northwestern graduate.  “Stuff happens,” noted one of the other reporters here.


Judge Walton had a funny instruction this morning to the Swarthmore/Emory graduate who has made it into the next round.  “Continue to not listen to the news or read the paper,” said Judge Walton. The next prospective juror, a database administration, answered affirmatively to the question of whether he “knew” any of the attorneys in the case.  He said he “knew” prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald from a news conference Fitzgerald held 15 months ago on the day Scooter Libby was indicted.  The prospective juror said he didn’t mean to imply he “knew Fitzgerald personally.”  Upon further questions by the judge, this man said his wife works in the criminal division at the justice department and added that a friend of theirs is a federal prosecutor in D.C.  During questioning by the defense, Libby’s attorney asked the man, “Do you know any defense lawyers?”  The man paused and said, “Uuhhhh, no.”  However, he said he would be able to decide the Libby case fairly and based solely on the evidence presented in court.  So, he made it to the next round as well.


Just a few moments ago, the 12th prospective juror to be questioned on the witness stand noted that she had read a Washington Post article on Monday previewing the Libby trial after the woman learned she would be a possible juror in the case.  Asked by the judge, “You read the specific article?”  The 60ish woman said, “Absolutely.”  When the judge asked the woman if she had “any opinions” about the Bush administration that might affect her ability to focus solely on the evidence and statements made in court, the woman replied:  “I certainly have an opinion that I can’t believe any statement by the Bush administration.”  The judge immediately asked attorneys to approach the bench, flipped on an audio switch so nobody, including the prospective juror, could hear the conversation above the electronic static.  About ten seconds later, the judge flipped his microphone on and said to the woman, “I appreciate your candor, but we will have to excuse you.”


Going into the questioning of the 13th prospective juror in this process, eight people had been approved for the next round… four had been “excused.”  Once the judge gets to 36 for the next round, there will be enough to survive the number of strikes allowed by the defense and prosecution and still have 12 jurors and 4 alternates left for the trial.


The 13th prospective juror to be questioned has emerged as the most well connected to top figures in this case.  For three years in the 1980’s, this man said he worked as a reporter at the Washington Post for Bob Woodward.  Until six months ago, the man was a neighbor of Tim Russert and “shared an alley” with the host of Meet the Press.  The man went to grade school with Maureen Dowd.  He is “friendly” with Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus, who wrote about the administration’s false case for war in the spring of 2003.  Attorneys spent more than a half hour questioning this man about whether he could put these connections aside and judge the case “fairly” and solely based on evidence presented at trial.  He stated repeatedly that as a journalist by training, he is all about “getting things right” and being “accurate” in evaluating witnesses.  He noted that he is a referee at his son’s basketball games and calls the games down the middle without bias or preference to either side.  Asked repeatedly about Woodward, the man said “he’s written books about Iraq, one contradicted the other.  Obviously he got some things wrong.”  The man added, “When I worked for Woodward, he constantly drilled in our heads not believe anything anybody says until you get the facts.”  Asked about knowing Tim Russert, the man said “Tim Russert is not going to tell lies intentionally.  But I believe that about most people.”  The man prompted widespread laughter when he was asked if he had ever been arrested.  The man said he had been arrested in 1971 at a May Day parade/protest.  He said he had “no bad feelings” about how he was treated in that episode, “except when the guy next to me took my food.”  Towards the end of his questioning, the man was asked about what he has been doing in recent years since working as a reporter.  He casually noted he wrote a novel about “spying.”  Libby’s lawyer said, “Tell me about the spying book.”  The man described the “good, the bad, and the ugly” of CIA spying in Guatemala.  It quickly became clear that he had no “strong opinions” one way or the other about the CIA.  At the end of the lengthy questioning, the judge had the man step away from the bench while the lawyers briefly discussed whether they would “move for cause” to have him excused.  Neither side made the request.  So the journalist made it to the second round.


Both the prosecution and defense teams have body language experts who are analyzing the way prospective jurors answer questions in court.  These experts will help each side “rank” the jurors who made it into the second round in terms of favorable/unfavorable.  Then, the defense and prosecution will be able to get rid of jurors on their “unfavorable” list through what are known as “preemptory challenges.”  I won’t bore you with details about what “qualifies” as a “peremptory” challenge.  But, the defense gets 12 peremptory strikes and the prosecution has eight.

 

Libby jury selection: Bad day for elite schools, journalist reaches 2nd round

Updated