Congressman On Trial Complains About Jury Pool

By THOMAS J. SHEERAN, Associated Press Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) - U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. complained Wednesday that the pool of potential jurors for his federal bribery trial excluded people from his hometown of Youngstown.

Traficant, coatless in freezing weather, told reporters as he entered the federal courthouse that he did not like that the pool was limited to residents of metropolitan Cleveland.

"I'm not being tried by a jury of my peers," said Traficant, who is representing himself in court although he's not a lawyer. He wants prospective jurors to also come from the area he represents in northeast Ohio -- Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties.

The nine-term Democrat has been accused of accepting gifts and favors from constituents in exchange for using his political influence, forcing his staff to make cash kickbacks or do favors for him, tax falsification and racketeering.

If convicted, the 60-year-old could be sentenced to 63 years in prison and fined $2.2 million. He would not automatically lose his congressional seat, but the House could vote to expel him.

U.S. District Judge Lesley Wells ruled last month that jurors will come from the Cleveland area because that is where the courthouse is.

On Wednesday, she denied Traficant's renewed request that the jury pool be expanded.

"You have in fact amended the Sixth Amendment," Traficant said. "I, quite frankly, think that is a mistake."

The two also got into a testy exchange over whether Traficant could be reached by telephone if there are changes in the court schedule.

Traficant said outside court he might defy the judge's order to provide a phone number and risk contempt of court.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," he said.

Traficant described the judge's order as "another little Bogart move to show whose boss."

He also complained that Wells had "ruled everything with the prosecution."

A phone message seeking comment was left at Wells' office.

In court, the judge said the region jurors are drawn from is standard procedure. She said Traficant would not be given "any special treatment in this court."

Traficant has complained previously that excluding jurors from his hometown would give prosecutors an unfair advantage.

Under the plan approved by judges in the northern Ohio district in 1997, jurors are chosen for the federal courts in Cleveland from eight northeast Ohio counties. Residents in Mahoning, Columbia and Trumbull counties serve on juries at the federal courthouse in Youngstown.

In 1983, a federal jury in Cleveland that included five jurors from the Youngstown area acquitted Traficant on charges that he took bribes totaling $163,000 from mobsters while Mahoning County sheriff. The jury foreman was from the Youngstown suburb of Girard.

In the current case, the 100 prospective jurors filled out questionnaires on Tuesday as the trial began. The 45-page form includes questions about family, jobs income, connections to anyone involved in the case, whether a juror had been audited by the Internal Revenue Service and whether they had an opinion, positive or negative, about Traficant.

Wells recessed the case until Friday morning to give Traficant and a team of prosecutors time to review the written answers before asking the potential jurors direct questions later Friday.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)