Thursday, April 13, 2006

ROUNDHOUSE ROUND-UP: POLITICAL GRILLING FOR JURORS

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
April13, 2006

Prospective jurors in former state Treasurer Robert Vigil’s trial — scheduled to begin Monday in Albuquerque — might be grilled about their individual political beliefs.

A 13-page “Request for Voir Dire Questions” filed in federal court this week lists specific questions prosecutors want to ask during jury selection.

Vigil faces multiple counts of extortion , money laundering and racketeering . The FBI says he demanded kickbacks from investment advisers in exchange for giving them state business .

Included in the list of proposed questions for the jury panel is an entire section under the heading of “Political Biases.”

Among them:

* “You will hear evidence in this case that defendant belongs to the Democratic party. Are there any jurors who would tend to sympathize with defendant as a result of this fact? Conversely , are there any jurors who feel they would be biased against defendant because he belongs to the Democratic party?”

* “Are there any jurors who feel that Democratic politicians are generally more honest than Republican, or other, politicians?”

* “Are there any jurors who feel that Republican politicians are generally more honest than Democratic, or other, politicians?”

* “Is there anyone on the panel who thinks that the United States Attorney’s Office should treat politicians differently, depending on their party?”

* “Is there anyone on the panel who has an issue with the United States Attorney prosecuting Democratic politicians?”

* “Is there anyone on the panel who has an issue with the United States Attorney prosecuting Republican politicians ?”

Background for us nonjurors: For the record, Vigil is a Democrat, while U.S. Attorney David Iglesias is a Republican . He was the GOP nominee for attorney general back in 1998.

He lost to current Attorney General Patricia Madrid, who is running for Congress against incumbent Republican Heather Wilson. State GOP leaders have criticized Madrid for not investigating Vigil in 1999 after a scathing state auditor’s report about activities during Vigil’s tenure as auditor.

But what’s that got to do with Scooter?: The former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney comes up in the proposed Vigil jury questions.

“Has anyone on the panel heard of a person named Scooter Libby? What opinions do you have about the United States prosecuting a high level official in that case?”

Libby is under indictment in the Valerie Plame case. There’s no evidence that he had any dealings with Vigil. On the other hand, there’s no evidence that Vigil leaked the name of any undercover CIA agents.

Getting theoretical: Here’s another proposed question that might draw out potential jurors’ ethical attitudes.

“Suppose a person walks into her boss’s office and asks her boss for a raise. Further assume the boss responds, ‘I’ll think about it. Oh, by the way, would you like to buy a raffle ticket to benefit my son’s soccer team?’ or ‘I’ll think about it. By the way, would you like to go out with me on Saturday night?’ In this situation, is there anyone on the panel who would not feel obligated or pressured to say ‘yes’ ?”

There’s a follow-up: “If the son’s raffle tickets cost $1,000 each, would this make a difference?”

Full disclosure: I once bought a Halloween pumpkin at my general manager’s church. This didn’t get me a raise.

Go ahead, punk, make my day: When Gov. Bill Richardson announced that Dave Contarino was stepping down as his chief of staff to take a top position in the Richardson re-election campaign, the governor had all sorts of kind words for Contarino . Richardson called Contarino the “strategic mind” of the Richardson Administration” and “my most senior and trusted aide.”

But in his autobiography, Between Worlds, published last year, Richardson had another word for Contarino.

“Punk.”

Richardson discusses how he approached Contarino in September 2001 to become his campaign manager .

“To my astonishment, the punk turned me down,” the governor, or his ghostwriter, wrote. “He has a life apart from politics, he said — a business , a wife, two small children — and he didn’t want it ruined. The guy had cojones, I thought. Fine, I said. I thought we could suck him in later. I did. Lock, stock and barrel.”

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