AUSWR
The Association of U S West Retirees
 

 

 

1,000 quizzed for jury service (Nacchio trial)
By Greg Griffin, Staff Writer
Denver Post
Sunday, February 11, 2007

Have you lost money in a stock-option plan?  You probably wouldn't qualify to sit on the jury that will decide former Qwest chief executive Joe Nacchio's fate.

That's just one of the questions the court may be asking prospective jurors as it prepares for the trial set to begin March 19.

Summonses and questionnaires were sent out during the past two weeks to 1,000 randomly selected Coloradans from the Front Range, central mountains and Eastern Plains, according to U.S. District Court documents.

Nacchio faces 42 counts of illegal insider trading for selling $100.8 million in Qwest shares in early 2001, allegedly based on nonpublic information.  Each count carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.  Nacchio has pleaded not guilty and is free on bond.

The court is looking for as many as 18 jurors and alternates who can spare seven to eight weeks away from work.

They cannot be current or former employees or stockholders of Qwest, or have family members, or possibly close friends, who have been.  The same is probably true for those with ties to U S West, which Qwest bought in 2000.

Those who have a strong bias for or against Nacchio also will eventually be excluded, as will those who are eager, for whatever reason, to sit on the Nacchio jury, U.S. District Judge Edward Nottingham has said.

Potential jurors who say they can't commit to an eight-week trial or who have other legitimate issues will be excluded.

The questionnaires were sent to screen people out before calling them in for questioning when the trial begins.  The actual content of the questionnaires hasn't been revealed publicly.  Nottingham has said he believes up to 300 of the 1,000 people receiving summonses could be eligible jurors.

Jury selection at the start of the trial may go quickly.  In the Enron trial, jurors were picked in one day.

Nottingham told attorneys in a closed hearing Jan. 26 that he's inclined to exclude anyone who has lost money in a stock-option plan, according to a transcript released Friday.  The likelihood of finding an impartial juror with that experience is low, he said.

Lead prosecutor Cliff Stricklin argued against disqualifying potential jurors who own Qwest stock now, or who have lost money in other investments.

"The question is ... if someone is a victim of Qwest, clearly they're disqualified to sit on this jury," he said Jan. 26.

Nacchio's attorneys are concerned about whether potential jurors are biased by media coverage of Nacchio.

"All we are striving to do is to get people ... who are without preconceptions," defense attorney Herbert Stern said Jan. 12.

Nottingham has said he would prefer to explore the issue of prejudice against Nacchio during in-court questioning.

"You could probably find 12 people who don't know anything about this case," he said in August.  "But then the question is whether you'd want them as jurors."

Nottingham denied a defense motion in August to move the trial to Nacchio's home state of New Jersey.  Defense attorneys had argued that negative publicity had tainted the jury pool.

Staff writer Greg Griffin can be reached at 303-954-1241 or ggriffin@denverpost.com.

http://www.denverpost.com/business/ci_5199056