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Published: Sunday, 3/28/2004

Jurors' lives put on hold in long trials

BY DALE EMcH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

From Tuesday through Friday for the next couple of months, jurors in the Outlaws Motorcycle Club trial in Toledo may have to put their jobs, their free time, and their families on hold.

In long, involved trials such as the one under way in U.S. District Court, jurors have to balance their normal routines for the scales of justice to work.

U.S. District Court Judge David Katz said jurors in such cases, despite some burdens, seem willing to serve. He said it may take more time to pick a jury for a long trial because of job conflicts or preplanned vacations, but the composition normally looks like a jury panel in a regular case.

"It takes longer to get a jury in a case that's going to be in excess of two or three weeks, but you get a very good mix from the jury pool," Judge Katz said.

The jury in the Outlaws case is considering a variety of racketeering and conspiracy charges against 14 defendants. A federal indictment claims that some of the men committed acts such as murder and drug dealing to carry out the gang's criminal enterprise. The trial is expected to last anywhere from six to eight weeks.

Because of the nature of the trial, the jury pool is anonymous even to the attorneys in the case. Seventeen people - nine men and eight women - are on the panel, which includes five alternates. Most appear to be middle-age.

John Czarnecki, a Toledo attorney who practices regularly in federal court, said with long cases, he tries to pick jurors from a variety of backgrounds.

"The risk is that the only folks who can go away from the business for so long are retired or unemployed," he said. "That's not a bad thing, but you can get a skewed view when you want a cross section."

In 1997, Mr. Czarnecki was a defense attorney in a three-month-long trial in which some former Libbey-Owens-Ford Co. executives were charged with conspiracy, mail fraud, and wire fraud. He said he was happy with the jurors chosen, in part because they acquitted his client.

He recalled that the jurors included a few teachers, an accountant, and a university professor.

Richard Kerger, a Toledo attorney, recently had a trial in Akron that lasted more than one month. He said many people expect jurors in lengthy trials to be mostly retirees or others with time on their hands, but that has not been his experience.

"The biggest loss [of potential jurors] is for people who have day-care issues, small-businessmen, people who work on commission, and students," he said.

Federal law prohibits employers from firing or threatening to fire permanent employees who are selected to serve on federal juries.

Jurors who are self-employed do not recoup much for their civic duty. In federal court, jurors are paid $40 a day for their service. They also are reimbursed for their parking expenses and their mileage, which can be important since the district court in Toledo serves 21 northwest Ohio counties.

By comparison, trials in Lucas County Common Pleas Court rarely last more than three weeks - and those are typically for death penalty or complicated civil cases, according to Jean Atkin, the court's administrator.

To get a 12-member jury with four alternates for death-penalty cases, a group of 150 Lucas County residents are chosen, Ms. Atkin said. By the time people are weeded out for potential conflicts, medical issues, relocations from the area, and other reasons, the attorneys are usually left with about 70 people to chose from.

As in federal court, Ms. Atkin said the greatest hardship for most potential jurors to overcome is their jobs.

"It's a hardship for someone to be gone for that length of time, particularly if it's a smaller employer" or they are self-employed, Ms. Atkin said.

Even with long trials, she said, jurors tend to be a good mix of ages and gender.

"It's quite gratifying that so many people do make sacrifices to serve," Ms. Atkin said.

Contact Dale Emch at: daleemch@theblade.com or 419-724-6061.



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