The only thing left to do is to determine those peers.
For all of
the publicity surrounding the case, legal experts expect Thursday's
jury selection to be rather tame. Blagojevich's attorneys on
Wednesday attempted a last-ditch effort to delay the trial but
Robert Hirschhorn, a jury selection specialist who helped acquit
William Kennedy Smith of the prominent, political Kennedy family of
rape charges in 1991, said Chicago has a "long, illustrious history"
in maintaining a neutral atmosphere in the courthouse.
Hirschhorn predicts the defense team has a tough road ahead --
"as difficult as pronouncing his last name" -- due in part to the
former governor's high profile. Since being thrown out of office by
the Illinois Legislature more than a year ago, Blagojevich has kept
himself in the public eye by writing a book, hosting a radio show
and appearing on Donald Trump's "Celebrity Apprentice" television
The former governor faces charges of racketeering and fraud,
including the alleged conspiracy to "sell" President Barack Obama's
former U.S. Senate seat for personal and political gain.
Hirschhorn said the defense should be eyeing a very particular
type of juror.
"The defense is going to want what I call a 'shades of grey'
juror," he said. "If you see the world in terms of right and wrong,
good and bad, black and white, I think that's pro-prosecution."
So what is a "shades of grey" juror?
Hirschhorn said the defense should look for a blue-collar juror,
preferably a food server who does not report his or her tips. He
believes Blagojevich's best bet will also be somebody familiar with
the world of politics, someone who can empathize with what it takes
to accomplish things in Chicago.
"The inference is that he was trying to sell this vacant Senate
seat," he said. "What the defense is going to try to do is say … he
was being a politician, not a crook."
But worldview is not all. Jury selection is as much about pet
peeves as ideals, which makes for a delicate line between a friendly
and unfriendly juror. Hirschhorn said the defense should find jurors
with no military experience who will nevertheless tolerate
Blagojevich's "sailor talk."
People who are uncomfortable with harsh language are less likely
to sympathize with Blagojevich's colorful words on tape. And
soldiers, he said, are more likely to see the world in terms of
black and white.
The prosecution will be looking for a different type of juror,
according to former federal prosecutor Rodger Heaton, who has
handled high-profile corruption cases before.
During his time as a federal prosecutor, Heaton worked under Ken
Starr, who later served as the independent counsel in charge of
investigating former U.S. President Bill Clinton's affair with
intern Monica Lewinsky. Heaton helped convict former Arkansas Gov.
Guy Tucker of mail fraud in 1996.
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"Allegations of dishonesty are a big part of what's in this
indictment," he said. "If (the prosecutors) find people who have to
protect themselves or protect others from dishonesty, they're
probably going to see that person as a potentially valuable juror."
Heaton said businessmen from medium to large companies would fit
the mold because they rely on contracts and honest conduct among
co-workers and vendors for success.
Although the case has been surrounded by reality television
appearances and one subpoenaed president, Heaton predicts that U.S.
District Judge James Zagel will maintain a firm command of the
process. Already Zagel has squared off against the defense over
courtroom procedure after dismissing large groups of potential
jurors without input from lawyers on both sides of the case.
Blagojevich attorneys attempted to delay the trial further to
restart the initial screening process without success. Zagel
defended his action, saying the trial's expected length precluded
many from serving on the jury.
Hirschhorn and Heaton understand the judge's reasoning.
"If you get a long trial, you start to run into people, say, for
example, who're self-employed and whose businesses will suffer
substantially if they're gone personally for a long period of time,"
Heaton said. "Those kinds of people really have a tough time
concentrating on the trial."
Heaton now is a partner with the Illinois law firm Hinshaw &
Zagel's initial screening ruled out all but 90 of the initial
pool of 300. The remaining 90 will be subject to two more screening
sessions. The preliminary hearing will try to cut jurors who cannot
separate existing bias from the case. Hirschhorn said this portion
of the process will most likely include questions about the case's
publicity or the governor's politics.
The secondary screening process, known as peremptory challenge,
will narrow the search from about 36 jurors to the final 16 or 17,
including alternates, said Hirschhorn. The attorneys will most
likely play a larger role in that screening process, with the
defense allowed several more cuts than the prosecutors.
He said the process could take as little as eight hours and as
long as four days, depending on the judge's actions.
The trial is set to start Thursday morning.
Statehouse News; By BILL McMORRIS]