Jury selection for the trial of former Enron executives Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling is underway in a federal courtroom downtown. As Houston Public Radio’s Laurie Johnson reports a jury of 12 people is being whittled down from an original pool of 400.
About three months ago, 400 randomly selected Houstonians received jury questionnaires containing 77 questions. The questions cover topics such as current job duties, involvement with law enforcement, investments in Enron, affiliations with accounting firm Arthur Andersen and much more. Of the potential jurors who returned the questionnaire, more than 100 were required to report to the courtroom today for further questioning. McNabb Associates is a global legal defense firm and Douglas McNabb is the Senior Principal Attorney. He says because this is a federal case, the government and defense attorneys are not able to hand-pick their jury.
“The federal judge, in this case Sim Lake, will be doing the questioning of the, from the jury pool. In state criminal cases, the individual lawyers will be able to ask individual questions of members of the jury pool. Uh, cannot in U.S. Federal Court, U.S. Federal Court it’s really up to the federal judge to ask the questions. And the questions aren’t asked of the individual members, but of the group as a whole.”
South Texas College of Law Associate Professor Adam Gershowitz says since the attorneys can’t ask specific questions, jurors with some hidden or latent bias could end up on the panel. And he says an even greater risk is people who have an agenda.
“In a high profile criminal trial like this you have the problem of some jurors who, who are sort of trying to get on the jury, who actively want to get on the jury to either get their 15 minutes in the spotlight or their book deal at the end of the day. And so those people can selectively answer the questions in a way that they think will get them on the jury.”
While the judge will eliminate most of the pool, the government has the option to strike six of the candidates and the defense has 12 strikes. Either way, McNabb says it is his professional opinion that Lay and Skilling cannot get a fair trial in Houston.
“I think that the publicity has just been such that, that there is a presumption in everyone’s minds that Mr. Lay and Mr. Skilling did what the government says that they did. You know, there’s already a presumption that a defendent who is sitting in the courtroom committed the crime, or he wouldn’t be sitting there.”
And McNabb says it’s that publicity which leaves room for the defense to appeal if their clients are convicted. Judge Sim Lake says jury selection will be finished today. Opening remarks should begin tomorrow and the government will present there case on Wednesday; that process that could take nine weeks. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.