U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson yesterday postponed until Oct. 19 the perjury trial of former White House deputy chief of staff Michael K. Deaver, blaming the news media for an appeals court decision that he said destroyed his ability to preside over the case.
The judge said the ruling requiring him to cease private questioning of prospective jurors in the case had ruined his credibility with the jury panel and left him uncertain how to proceed.
"I am also satisfied that the several interruptions of these proceedings occasioned by the news media's efforts . . . have left an impression in the minds of the panel that it is the news media, not the court, who dictate the pace of the trial and the manner of the proceeding," the judge said later in a written opinion.
Jackson, who was presiding over what is probably his most celebrated criminal trial since becoming a federal judge five years ago, reset the trial of Deaver, a longtime confidant to President Reagan, for October in order to allow a Supreme Court appeal on the secret-questioning issue.
Deaver's lawyers announced that they would seek the Supreme Court review and independent counsel Whitney North Seymour Jr. said he would request all members of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to review the jury decision, issued Wednesday by a three-judge panel of the court.
Deaver, a Washington lobbyist accused of lying to a House subcommittee and a federal grand jury about his contacts with high Reagan administration officials after he left the White House, wanted the trial to continue, as did Seymour. The prosecutor said he supported the judge's belief that the closed selection process was "the right way" to pick a jury, but he added: "I don't think it was the only way."
At issue is the jury selection process, called voir dire, in which potential jurors are questioned to determine impartiality in the case.
In many places the procedure is done in an open courtroom with lawyers from both sides asking questions in an attempt to detect bias that would exclude such jurors. Some Washington judges, however, have been conducting this procedure away from the public, in apparent violation of the requirements established in a 1984 Supreme Court case.
In the Deaver trial, potential jurors were being questioned in a jury room away from the public about a five-page questionnaire Jackson had given them. Lawyers for several major news organizations, including The Washington Post, objected to this procedure, citing the Supreme Court which says that jurors must Deaver wanted the trial to continue, as did independent counsel Seymour.
be questioned in public except in rare circumstances.
Jackson, noting he had promised the jurors he would protect their privacy, rejected the complaints, but a three-judge panel of the appeals court sided with the news organizations and directed Jackson to comply with the Supreme Court standards. Yesterday morning, when the four-day-old Deaver trial was to resume, the judge announced that his authority with the jury was demolished and said he was uncertain how to proceed.
"Quite frankly, I don't want to get started until I know what I'm supposed to be doing in the way of voir dire," Jackson said. He then said he would delay the trial to give the Supreme Court time to consider the issue.
Two issues in the case have already been appealed to the Supreme Court, which has declined to intervene. Kevin Baine, a lawyer who represented The Post, said yesterday that he believes it unlikely that the high court would overturn the appeals court ruling.
Deaver, Reagan's former deputy chief of staff, was described by his lawyer, Herbert Miller Jr., as anxious to "get this trial behind him" but Miller said he was convinced that the jury-selection issue was so important it should be appealed to the Supreme Court.