Jury selection began today in the trial of former Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.). While the morning’s events didn’t produce much action in the case, those in attendance did at least get a little peek into Judge T.S. Ellis, III’s personality.
Roughly 90 potential jurors packed themselves into the benches of courtroom 900 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria, before being shuttled downstairs to fill out a sealed questionnaire. The morning was devoted mostly to sorting through potential conflicts of interest, such as whether members of the jury pool had relatives or friends at the Justice Department, or at Trout Cacheris, the firm defending Jefferson against charges he accepted bribes to arrange business deals in Africa.
Ellis tried to lighten the mood with an occasional quip, and in the process let slide a few personal details. For instance, the courtroom learned that Ellis does not have an e-mail account. While speaking with a possible juror whose son was a paralegal at the Justice Department, the judge also delved a bit into family business.
“Your son, he is employed?” Ellis asked the juror. “Yes.” “And for that you should be grateful. I have an itinerant musician for one of mine,” he said dryly, drawing a bit of laughter from the court. A few minutes later though, looking out towards the press in the back, he seemed to have second thoughts about the punch line, noting he wouldn’t want to hurt his son’s feelings.
“He is an itinerant musician. But he’s quite a good musician. His band is opening for Bob Dylan.”
The National Law Journal has not yet been able to identify what band Ellis’ son plays for.
Only one prospective juror — a man whose wife was college roommates with the court reporter — was immediately struck from the pool. Others, including a lobbyist who worked on Katrina rebuilding efforts, a former Secret Service Agent, and the former special counsel to Michael Chertoff at the Department of Homeland security, were allowed to stay on for the time being.
Lawyers will reconvene in the courtroom again this afternoon, where they will argue before the judge in an important sealed hearing. The defense, led by Trout Cacheris partners Robert Trout and Amy Berman Jackson, has asked to submit evidence relating to the reliability of the government’s key witness, Lori Mody. Mody wore a wire to record conversations in which Jefferson and she allegedly discussed bribing a foreign official. Jefferson’s lawyers have sought mental health records for Mody. Prosecutors, led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Lytle, say they are irrelevant to her testimony.
See The National Law Journal’s trial preview from Monday.