The judge in the fraud trial of HealthSouth Corp. founder Richard M. Scrushy gave differing public and private reasons for dismissing a juror who belonged to a church Scrushy visited and gave money to, transcripts show.
Scrushy, who was acquitted June 28 in Birmingham, attended the church weeks earlier, prompting an FBI probe.
U.S. District Judge Karon O. Bowdre cited "external events" in explaining the dismissal in April, saying the juror, prosecutors and defense lawyers did nothing wrong.
Privately, Bowdre said she was "concerned about what certainly can be viewed as improper reaching out by both sides in this case to mess with the juror."
The statement is quoted in the transcript of one of 600 "sidebar" conferences with lawyers unsealed last week.
Disclosing Scrushy's visit or how FBI agents compromised the juror's anonymity "would open more of a can of worms and create more of a cloud on this court proceeding than is necessary," Bowdre told the lawyers.
Scrushy, who was fired as chief executive in March 2003, wants to return to that position at the company he built into the largest U.S. provider of rehabilitation medicine. He blamed a $2.7 billion fraud on 15 executives who pleaded guilty.
Scrushy's Christianity helped define his persona during the six-month trial. A white man who joined a predominately black church, he spoke at other black churches and enjoyed public support of black pastors. Seven of the 12 jurors who acquitted him were black. Jurors said the government's lack of evidence, not race or religion, dictated their verdict.
Prosecutors feared Scrushy might influence jurors by preaching at local churches, transcripts show. Justice Department prosecutor Richard Smith told Bowdre on Feb. 16 that Scrushy "might have attended" a church service attended by a juror.
At some point during the trial, Scrushy went to Mount Joy Baptist Church in Trussville, Ala., where juror Gayle Darden belongs. Bowdre said at an April 19 sidebar conference that she wanted to interview that church's pastor and three FBI employees.
On April 26, Bowdre privately told lawyers about perceptions of "improper reaching out."
Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney Alice H. Martin has asked a judge to dismiss the indictment of former HealthSouth president James P. Bennett.
Bennett was indicted on charges of conspiracy, fraud, money laundering and insider trading at the company. Martin's court filing did not explain why she wanted to drop the charges.