WASHINGTON -- The episodic dramatics and messiness that marked the hastily convened four-week trial of Sen. Ted Stevens spread to the jury Thursday when, after less than two days of deliberations, two members of the panel were in jeopardy of expulsion.
The first juror, a woman identified only as Juror 9, a National Guard bookkeeper, was accused in a note by the jury foreman of "rude, disrespectful and unreasonable" behavior and of making "violent outbursts with other jurors." The foreman said he and the other 10 jurors wanted Juror 9 kicked off the panel.
That dispute appeared to have been resolved peacefully with a folksy appeal for civil behavior by the judge, and the jurors could be seen leaving the courthouse for the day smiling and chatting among themselves.
Then, after dark, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan summoned lawyers back to his courtroom with another problem: Juror 4, a woman who works as a paralegal at a mortgage company, alerted a marshal that she had to attend to a family emergency in Texas and then dropped from sight.
Sullivan called a special hearing for 9 a.m. today to resolve what to do next. If Juror 4 can be located and would promise to be back in Washington in time for Monday's session, Sullivan said, he would probably accommodate her by canceling deliberations today.
Just in case, he also told marshals to summon Alternate 1, also a woman in the female-dominated panel, and have her report for duty at the time of the hearing. Sullivan said he would consider replacing Juror 4 with the alternate, or allow 11 jurors to decide the case. He asked attorneys for both sides to research the issue and submit their recommendations by 7 a.m.
Stevens was indicted July 29 on seven counts of failing to disclose gifts he received from 2000 to 2006, mainly expensive house renovations from the oil-field service company Veco Corp. and its then-chief executive, Bill Allen. Though the law firm defending Stevens, Williams & Connolly, is famous for normally extending the pre-trial period with a deluge of motions, Stevens demanded a speedy trial, his constitutional right. He said he planned on being acquitted before he faced voters on Nov. 4.
That unusually fast schedule for such a major trial may have had consequences. The 7 a.m. deadline for document filings in the jury matter today is nothing unusual. Attorneys for both sides, along with the judge, his law clerks and staff, have often worked late into the night after the day's testimony and on weekends. It's not just for normal witness preparations but to make and respond to the numerous challenges and arguments that have cropped up, many of which might have been resolved at a less sleep-deprived pace had there been a longer lead-up to trial.
At one point, the government revealed a check that Allen had used to buy a Land Rover that he traded to Stevens' daughter after the defense went through contortions trying to show how much Allen had paid without that evidence. Judge Sullivan said he would have understood why the government failed to provide the check to the defense if it had gotten lost in the rush. Prosecutors said it was true they rediscovered the check in their mounds of evidence late in the game, but they also didn't think it was relevant to the defense.
That led to one of two sanctions imposed by the judge on the prosecution, striking all evidence about a car trade that allegedly benefitted Stevens. He also struck some evidence about how much money was spent on Stevens' home by Veco.
The attorneys and judge spent only two days picking the jury from a pool of 150.
Tensions inside the jury room emerged soon after deliberations began Wednesday. At 3:55 p.m., the foreman sent out a note that read:
"Can we leave a little early today? Would that be a problem, your honor. Kinda stressful right now. We need a minute of clarity for all."
The judge told them no problem. But before noon Thursday, two more notes came from the foreman and the judge summoned the attorneys to his courtroom to hear them read.
The first note was no problem: Somehow, page 20 of the indictment had failed to make it to the jury. The second note was a little more difficult to resolve. They wanted a better explanation of term "liabilities" and the limit that the senator should have disclosed each year on his forms.
The charges against Stevens accuse him of failing to report gifts as well as liabilities, which are debts or obligations that he might have incurred by accepting a gift and not reporting it. After some debate among the lawyers, the judge declined to do so.
While Sullivan was reading the second note, a marshal handed him a third. That was the show stopper.
"Judge Sullivan: We the jury request that Juror No. 9 be removed from the jury. She's being rude, disrespectful and unreasonable. She has had violent outbursts with other jurors and that is not helping anyone. The jurors are getting off course. She is not following the laws and rules that were stipulated in the instructions."
Sullivan said out of the jury's presence Thursday that he thought about asking the foreman to explain to the court what he meant by "violent" in the note, because the judge was concerned about the jurors' safety. Instead, he called the whole jury to the courtroom so that he could remind the members of their obligation to be civil to one another and foster an atmosphere of "mutual respect."