From a total of over 80 potential jurors, sixteen have advanced to the final round of jury selection, as of Friday, April 29 2011, in the corruption trial of former Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi.
The sixteen, however, isn’t enough. U.S. District Court Judge Mark Wolf must select an additional 20 jurors before the pool is finally narrowed down to the 16 people who will actually hear the case. 12 of those 16 will act as primary jurors, and 4 will serve as alternates in the event that one or more jurors are excused or dismissed for some unforeseen reason. Wolf has met personally with 37 members of the jury pool, to discuss their responses to 43 separate written questions that have been posed to each of them. The questions are designed to screen out biases, possible prejudices and/or pre-conceived opinions about the defendants or the case. Jurors were asked their opinions about lobbyists, accountants, Gov. Deval Patrick and other elected officials, who may be called as witnesses. Among the jurors who were dismissed was a woman who said she held a “jaded opinion” of elected officials, and a man who disobeyed the judge’s instructions not to research the case online, as well as another man who was overheard by a potential juror as saying “all politicians are guilty of something.”
DiMasi, accountant Richard Vitale and lobbyist Richard McDonough are accused of political corruption charges in allegedly steering two state contracts worth $17.5 million to the Burlington software company Cognos, in return for hundreds of thousands of dollars in hidden payments. DiMasi is accused of collecting $65,000 in kickbacks. Vitale allegedly received $600,000, and authorities said McDonough got $300,000. As a Boston criminal defense lawyer, I have to say I’m quite surprised at DiMasi’s apparent refusal to this point, to accept a possible plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts. Note: I emphasize “apparent” refusal, as I don’t know whether prosecutors have, in fact, offered any plea deal to DiMasi – but it’s not at all uncommon that such possibilities would be pursued between prosecutors and defense counsel, prior to trial. I would find it odd if I learned that prosecutors never proffered any kind of a plea deal in this case, at all. Also, I don’t know whether DiMasi’s attorney has advised his client to consider any plea if one was actually offered, or not. And most important, if DiMasi’s lawyer had recommended such an option, DiMasi is the one who would make the final call on that, as the client is the person who makes these final decisions, not the attorney. Hence, as this case appears headed for trial as of this writing, I have to assume one of three things: 1) The U.S. Attorney did not offer any kind of plea deal; 2) They did proffer such a deal, but DiMasi’s attorney advised his client against the deal and DiMasi agreed with his attorney’s advice; or 3) Prosecutors offered a deal, DiMasi’s attorney recommended he take it, and DiMasi refused his attorney’s advice. There aren’t many other answers to explain why DiMasi is barreling toward a jury trial here.