Nevada's chief federal judge has ordered a 21-member special federal grand jury to appear before him next Tuesday, apparently to see if an escalating tiff involving two U.S. judges and an organized crime strike force has tainted the jury.
U.S. District Court Judge Roger D. Foley issued the order after more than a week of open conflict in which he and U.S. District Judge Harry Claiborne are allied against a federal organized crime strike force headed by Geoffrey Anderson.
Foley ordered a U.S. marshal earlier this month to seize newspaper clippings and photographs from the office of the strike force, which is in the local U.S. attorney's office. Among the items confiscated were clippings, cartoons and notations allegedly critical of Foley and Claiborne. One was said to picture Foley as a clown, with a caption that said in part: "There is no organized crime . . ."
The caricature and other items reportedly were tacked to a door that the grand jurors passed regularly. Foley's order did not give any reasons for the appearance of the grand jurors, who are under Anderson's direction, but it is believed he will attempt to determine if the mocking pictures and captions have influenced their opinions on allegations they are investigating, reportedly including some involving Claiborne.
Claiborne last week attacked the federal strike force agents as a "sorry, rotten bunch" who have been trying to intimidate the two federal judges.
Claiborne says he has been hearing testimony on allegations that Claiborne used illegal wiretaps, supposedly installed for him by a private investigator in 1977 or 1978, before Claiborne was appointed to the federal bench in August 1978.
Claiborne, who is in line to become chief federal judge in Nevada when Foley relinquishes that position April 30, has said that, as chief federal judge, he would "issue an order to seize all the monitoring equipment" in the strike force's office.
Claiborne has accused the strike force of conducting a smear campaign against him. He and Foley have ruled against the strike force in several court cases, and Claiborne said he believed the federal agency was upset that he might become the chief federal judge.