By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 24, 2008
A federal judge declined to remove a juror yesterday after complaints from other jurors that she had "violent outbursts" and refused to "follow the rules and laws" during deliberations in the corruption trial of Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens.
In a note to the judge, the jury foreman said he represented the views of 10 others on the panel in requesting that the juror, identified only as No. 9, be removed from the panel. He described her as "rude, disrespectful and unreasonable."
Instead of dismissing the woman, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan summoned the 12-member jury into his courtroom for what he called a "pep talk."
"You should encourage civility and mutual respect among yourselves," Sullivan told the panel before sending them back to deliberate in the afternoon. The judge remarked that the jurors were smiling when they entered and left his courtroom, and did not appear agitated.
At the end of the day, the jurors sent another note saying they were "unanimous" in their desire to end deliberations for the day because they were exhausted.
Stevens (R) is charged with lying on financial disclosure forms to hide the receipt of more than $250,000 in gifts and renovations to his home in Girdwood, Alaska. Jurors heard a month of testimony from more than 40 witnesses and began deliberations Wednesday.
The note was not the first one suggesting tension among the jurors. Four hours into deliberations on Wednesday, the foreman wrote a note saying things were "kind of stressful."
Yesterday, the foreman wrote: "We the jury request that juror #9 be removed from the jury. She is being rude, disrespectful and unreasonable. She has had violent outbursts with other jurors and is not helping anyone."
"The jurors are getting off course," he added. "She is not following the laws and rules that were stipulated in the instructions."
Sullivan initially indicated that he would question the foreman about the meaning of "violent outbursts" but decided to address the panel instead.
"It's difficult, it's thorny and it's at a critical stage," Sullivan said in describing the note and the steps he could take.
Prosecutors wanted the judge to question the foreman about the "outbursts" but did not press him to ask about the assertion that the juror was refusing to "follow the laws and rules." Robert Cary, a defense lawyer, argued that the judge should first call the jurors into the courtroom and instruct them to deliberate courteously.
The note was the third of four sent by the jury yesterday. In the first, the foreman noted that the indictment was missing a page. "They are being very attentive," Sullivan said.
In the second, Sullivan said, the jurors asked him to "please clarify liability costs" on Senate financial disclosure forms.
The notes were not the only indication of problems with the jurors. One apparently experienced a family emergency, Sullivan said at a hearing last night. Efforts to reach the juror were not successful, Sullivan said, so the judge ordered that an alternate appear in court as a potential replacement.
Prosecutors have painted Stevens, 84, as a stingy man who sought help from a friend to finance expensive renovations to his house. They say he approached Bill Allen, the head of Veco, a now-defunct oil services company, because he knew he could get work done free. Prosecutors also have accused him of taking steps to cover up receiving less expensive gifts, including a sled dog and a massage chair.
Defense lawyers have depicted Stevens as a dedicated public official who has served Alaska in the Senate for 40 years. Stevens testified that his family hired and paid the Veco workers on the job through a residential contractor, who was in charge of the project. He said Allen was a friend who just lined up workers and helped him monitor the remodeling work.