Traficant Objects Repeatedly Over Dismissal Of Jurors

By THOMAS J. SHEERAN, Associated Press Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) - U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. objected repeatedly Friday over the dismissal of jurors at his bribery trial and suggested the judge was trying to get an all-white jury.

Still, Traficant, who is white, said outside court that he didn't think black jurors would be more favorable to him. Traficant said he was surprised to see just six or seven blacks in a jury pool of 105 people drawn from the Cleveland area.

"Is Cleveland 99 percent white or what?" Traficant asked outside court.

The city's population is about 50 percent black.

Judge Lesley Wells dismissed Traficant's complaint and said she wasn't aware of the racial makeup of the jury pool. "That's something I didn't pay attention to," she said.

When the Youngstown Democrat persisted, the judge told him to sit down.

Traficant raised the race issue after the judge excused a black woman with health problems as a potential juror.

One-third of potential jurors were dismissed for various reasons, such as perceived bias, health problems or preconceived notions about a defendant's guilt. Sixty-five must return Monday for further questioning.

Traficant, 60, has been accused of accepting gifts and favors 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, he could be sentenced to 63 years in prison and could face expulsion from the House.

At one point, Traficant stood to object to the removal of a potential juror who has foot surgery scheduled during the trial, which is expected to last eight weeks.

"I cut half my finger off, put it in peroxide and here I am," said Traficant, who is in court with a bandaged finger.

The judge overruled his objections and removed the prospective juror from the jury pool. Traficant also objected to dismissing a severely dyslexic person from the jury pool, saying the individual should have gotten court help completing the 45-page juror questionnaire.

The judge said she accommodates people with handicaps but said that juror would be dismissed.

Traficant and Wells had several rapid fire exchanges, and at one point he apologized for his repeated objections.

"I do not mean to offend you," he said.

Wells said she was determined to move along with jury selections and repeatedly told Traficant she would handle his objections later.

"Can I respond?" Traficant asked.

"No," the judge said.

"Your honor, I object to that," Traficant said.

"Fine," the judge said.

Traficant repeatedly asked Wells to dismiss prospective jurors who have family members or friends in law enforcement, particularly the FBI and Internal Revenue Service. Those agencies led the investigation of the congressman.

Traficant also tried to argue that the questionnaire filled out by prospective jurors should not have been released to the media.

He said before entering court that the public disclosure violated his rights.

Wells, who made the questionnaires available to the media, told Traficant that she would rule on his concerns later.

It is the second time that Traficant has defended himself against criminal charges. He was acquitted in 1983 on charges he took $163,000 in bribes from mobsters and filed a false income tax return while serving as Mahoning County sheriff.

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