Prosecutor frets over finding fair jury for Martha Stewart trial

Friday, January 23rd 2004, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ A federal prosecutor says she is worried about finding a fair jury to try Martha Stewart after one potential juror wished the style maven luck.

Prosecutor Karen Patton Seymour asked the judge to specifically ask potential jurors whether their feelings about Stewart would make it difficult to be fair, according to a transcript released Thursday.

``I am concerned about that issue, Your Honor,'' Seymour told U.S. District Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum during juror questioning on Wednesday.

Cedarbaum promptly asked the next potential candidate whether she could ``set aside any of your feelings for Martha Stewart'' and judge the case solely on evidence. The woman said she believed she could.

Seymour, the lead prosecutor in the case, raised the point after an episode Tuesday in which a woman was excused from jury service, then looked across the room at Stewart and blurted out, ``I am a huge fan of yours. Good luck.''

Stewart's lawyers also have concerns.

Attorney Robert Morvillo twice told the judge he is worried jurors might mistakenly believe the style-setter is charged with insider trading.

``These jurors are coming in here. Many of them have written the same thing, thinking that she has been charged with criminal insider trading,'' Morvillo said Wednesday, according to the transcript.

The judge replied: ``I will see to it that the jury does not believe that there is a charge of insider trading.''

Stewart is accused of lying to investigators and misleading investors in her own company about why she sold 3,928 shares of ImClone Systems Inc. stock in 2001, just before it plummeted on a negative government review of an ImClone drug.

The government says she was tipped that ImClone founder Sam Waksal was trying to sell his shares.

Waksal has admitted getting advance word of the government decision and pleaded guilty to insider trading. But Stewart was never accused by the government of knowing about the government report.

One juror excused from service on Wednesday was open about her bias: ``I don't think that I would be fair. I think I would be _ I am not even trying to be impartial. I think she is guilty.''

By day's end Thursday, the judge had cleared about 40 jurors, close to the 50 she wants to proceed to the final round of jury selection, a source close to the case told The Associated Press.

The source said lawyers hope the judge will approve the final 10 on Friday, and lawyers will winnow the pool of 50 down to a final jury of 12 and six alternates on Monday. Opening statements could be Tuesday, the source said.

Stewart claims she and Bacanovic, who is on trial with her, had a standing order to sell Stewart's stable of ImClone shares when the stock price fell to $60.

The media are relying on transcripts of the juror interviews because the judge has barred reporters and the public from watching the process, even though it is typically conducted in open court.

Seventeen media organizations, including The Associated Press, claim the ban violates the public's right to monitor the judicial process. They are appealing the decision at a hearing scheduled Monday.