Stewart jury pool made up of fans and foes
Published: Thursday, January 22, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 21, 2004 at 11:17 p.m.
NEW YORK - Lawyers in the Martha Stewart trial are weeding through a diverse jury pool, from a man who said the style guru could not be trusted to a woman who looked at her and said: "I am a huge fan of yours. Good luck."
A transcript released Wednesday of the first day of jury questioning offered a glimpse at the painstaking process by which lawyers for the government and Stewart trying to detect whether jurors might favor either side.
No one involved in the case appears to believe it is possible to seat a jury of 12 people who have never heard of Stewart. Instead, the judge in the case is trying to make sure they can try the case fairly.
"I mean, it's been impossible to totally not hear about the case," one potential juror told the judge, according to the transcript. "It has been everywhere."
The judge told the potential juror, a housewife and former lawyer, that she may wind up on the jury, depending in part on whether she can find someone to watch her 13-year-old child.
Stewart, 62, is accused of lying to the government and her own shareholders about why she sold ImClone Systems stock in late 2001, just before it plummeted on a negative government review of an ImClone cancer drug.
Hundreds of people have filled out jury questionnaires. But the judge has barred reporters from watching follow-up interviews with those people, instead releasing a transcript the following day with names removed.
U.S. District Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum approved 14 jurors after questioning Tuesday, and a lawyer for Stewart's co-defendant, Peter Bacanovic, characterized Wednesday as a "similar day."
The judge is said to want 50 available for the next round, when lawyers narrow the pool down to 12 jurors and six alternates.
The transcript reveals that, both in questionnaires and the follow-up interviews, jurors have been asked their feelings about wealthy people, and whether people in law enforcement and the stock industry can be trusted.
One potential juror answered in the questionnaire that he did not trust Stewart. In a follow-up interview, he told the judge: "Sometimes people that are - that are powerful are not so trustworthy." He was disqualified from the jury.
A woman reported that she worked on a trading desk at a securities firm where the Stewart case is talked about "very regularly" on the trading desk and said she would have trouble ignoring news reports about the trial.
She was disqualified. But before she left the judge's private robing room, according to the transcript, she addressed "the defendant" - presumably Stewart - and said: "I am a huge fan of yours. Good luck."
But other potential jurors were cleared by the judge despite coming from lines of work, or expressing certain feelings, that lawyers found troubling - a sign of the difficulty in picking a jury in such a highly publicized case.
One woman was allowed to continue after saying she did not believe the government was doing enough to prosecute corporate scandals. And a man was cleared even after saying he believed money, in some cases, could buy justice.
And in a peek at the trial to come, prosecutors told the judge they may offer as evidence a report that mentions the name of Mary Meeker, a high-profile Morgan Stanley Internet stock analyst.
Some lawsuits filed by investors in 2001 blamed Meeker and the firm for their losses in Net stocks, but a federal judge quickly dismissed the suits.
Stewart attorney Robert Morvillo said the defense may call Meeker as a witness if the government introduces the report.
In the morning, Stewart stepped out of a Mercedes and wearing a wraparound coat and high-heeled boots, and flashed a brief smile at reporters. She ascended the courthouse steps on the arm of one of her lawyers, John J. Tigue.
Across the street from the courthouse, a man in a hooded parka jumped up and down and shouted: "Save Martha! Save Martha! Save Martha!"
In the afternoon, Stewart again did not answer reporters' questions as she left. Morvillo, walking behind her, said, "Everything went fine today. We'll be back tomorrow."
Stewart claims she and Bacanovic had a standing order to sell Stewart's 3,928 shares of ImClone stock when its price fell below $60 per share.
But the government claims Stewart sold after she was tipped that her friend Sam Waksal, the ImClone founder, was trying to sell his shares. Waksal later admitted having advance word of the government decision on the drug.
Stewart and Bacanovic each face five federal counts. Conviction on any count for either defendant would likely result in prison time.
Opening statements are expected early next week. The trial is expected to last about six weeks.
Media organizations, including The Associated Press, have asked a federal appeals court to overturn the judge's order barring reporters from jury selection. But the court will not hear the case until Monday.
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