Thursday, January 22, 2004

Lots of questions for Stewart jury

By Erin McClam
The Associated Press

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.

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 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 might 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 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, instead releasing a transcript the following day with names removed.

The transcript reveals that 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" and said she would have trouble ignoring news reports about the trial.

She was disqualified.

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 man was cleared even after saying he believed money, in some cases, could buy justice.

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