Jury selection moving forward in Rezko trial

March 4, 2008 3:40:02 PM PST
The judge in the corruption trial of Tony Rezko had whittled the number of potential jurors down to 44 as of Tuesday afternoon. Judge Amy St. Eve has questioned more than 70 people since selection for the 12 jurors and 6 alternatives began on Monday.

During private, sidebar conversations, Judge St. Eve asked potential jurors if they or their family had any contact with the criminal justice system. The question appears to be an attempt to avoid the kinds of problems that occurred during the corruption trial of former Illinois Governor George Ryan.

"She doesn't want to be criticized for not having the right people on the jury. But she doesn't want anybody to say you didn't do the juror selection correctly," said Pat McEvoy, jury consultant.

Those questioned from the jury pool include a man who claimed to be a state senator's friend, two state employees and the mother of a detective. Rezko, 52, sat quietly and listened as Judge St. Eve asked questions about whether they could be fair and afford to be away from their jobs.

Rezko is accused of buying political influence in the Blagojevich administration with campaign contributions and using his political clout to launch a multimillion-dollar shakedown scheme. In the scheme, companies that wanted to do business with the state were allegedly told they had to pay kickbacks or make campaign contributions. Otherwise, the companies were allegedly turned away.

Stuart Levine, an indicted Republican fundraiser who sat on the Teacher's Pension Fund Board, is scheduled to testify against Rezko. Levine allegedly put together the shakedown scheme with Rezko

Rezko admits to raising money for Governor Rod Blagojevich and U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama, but said he is not part of a shakedown scheme. Obama, who has not been accused wrongdoing, is expected to be mentioned only briefly- if at all- in the trial.

Jury consultant McEvoy said lawyers in case are trying to determine how prospective jury members view respect for authority.

"If you're the defense, you want people who are going to be skeptical of authority and say, 'I'm from Missouri, show me,'" said McEvoy.

But prosecutors are looking for the opposite, according to McEvoy.

"Somebody who pays attention to authority, who follows the rules, who doesn't blame somebody else if they don't follow the rules," said McEvoy.

Judge St. Eve will reconvene with the 44 potential jurors on Wednesday. She expects to begin opening statements Thursday morning. The trial could take three to four months.