Saturday, November 12, 2011

Cellini's lawyer cites juror's felony record in seeking mistrial

Woman allegedly concealed 2 convictions during jury selection

Lawyers for Springfield power broker William Cellini say they will file for a mistrial as soon as Monday based on a report in the Tribune that a juror apparently concealed two felony convictions from court officials during jury selection.

One issue could turn on whether the juror was eligible to serve on the panel that convicted Cellini last week in light of her own criminal history.

The Tribune reported Friday that Cook County court records show that a woman with the same name, age and address as the juror pleaded guilty to a felony charge of crack-cocaine possession in 2000 and was sentenced to 1 1/2 years probation. In 2008, she pleaded guilty to aggravated driving under the influence without a driver's license, also a felony, and was sentenced to probation and time served - 44 days in jail, according to the records.

The juror, who lives on Chicago's South Side, was unavailable for comment Friday for a second consecutive day.

Federal statutes call for the exclusion of jurors who have felony convictions - unless their civil rights have been restored. What that means in this case could be a contentious issue between the prosecution and defense.

In a statement released Friday, the U.S. attorney's office said that in Illinois a convicted felon's civil rights are restored after the individual has served the sentence imposed by a court.

"Thus, a person who has completed his or her sentence on a felony conviction is not disqualified from serving on a federal jury," the statement said.

However, it appears from court records that the woman at issue did not successfully complete her sentence for her narcotics conviction because she allegedly violated her probation by not properly reporting to a probation officer.

Cellini's attorney, Dan Webb, said he will argue in his mistrial motion that the woman's criminal background means Cellini's conviction must be tossed out.

"It's not Bill Cellini's fault that (there was) a juror on there that shouldn't be," he said.

Cellini's attorneys will likely argue that the woman never disclosed she had a conviction on a questionnaire filled out by jurors or under questioning by the judge in the courtroom during jury selection last month.

She told U.S. District Judge James Zagel in court that the DUI she had marked on her questionnaire referred to a relative, not herself, according to a statement issued Thursday night by the clerk of the federal court.

The federal jury convicted Cellini in connection with the attempted extortion of a Hollywood producer in 2004. Prosecutors said Cellini, a longtime Republican fundraiser, conspired to squeeze a campaign contribution for then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich in order to protect his insider access in Springfield. The producer operated a firm that invested tens of millions of dollars for a state pension fund.

Several attorneys contacted by the Tribune on Friday said that undoing a jury verdict would be no easy task for Cellini's lawyers.

"Federal law appropriately provides great respect for a jury's verdict and holds that it should not be lightly disturbed," the U.S. attorney's office noted in its statement.

By Annie Sweeney, Chicago Tribune reporter

Source: Chicago Tribune

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