Picking Scooter's Peers

Libby Gets a Jury
Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Jan. 22 2007 7:31 PM

Picking Scooter's Peers

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Scooter Libby has his jury: nine women and three men. In a city that is nearly 60 percent African-American, 10 are Caucasian. The group includes an art historian, a soprano, a postal worker, a Web designer, and a charming retired North Carolina math teacher. Somehow, juror No. 1,869, that Washington Post reporter who seems to know everyone, made it into the box.

Libby has to feel relieved. His jurors are not people who are hooked on the 24-hour news cycle. They're more interested in celebrity gossip or the sports pages than the news. "I don't like reading newspapers," said one thirtysomething woman who said she watches Heroes, Jericho,and Judge Judy instead of Katie Couric or Tim Russert. ("You know [Judge Judy's] not a judge," Judge Walton told her during her questioning.)

John Dickerson John Dickerson

John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of On Her Trail. Read his series on the presidency and on risk.

Most are thoroughly unfamiliar with the case, but though they may not have known Libby's name, they all know their duty as public citizens. When they were asked about their ability to judge events fairly, they were thoroughly informed. "That is the obligation in this setting," said the theatrical elderly art historian, who will either drive her fellow jurors mad or have them all sounding like members of the Royal Shakespeare Co. by the end of this.

Not only did jurors promise to weigh the evidence carefully, but when asked if the Bush administration lied in the run-up to the war, they were ruthlessly fair and balanced. "I don't believe in that stuff you have to go to the right person," said the giggly, 30ish travel agent. "There are three sides to a story: his side, her side, and the truth." One woman who thought Bush had not been "candid" nevertheless said it wouldn't affect her ability to judge evidence in this case.

All jurors seemed predisposed to buy the defense argument that memory can be a funny thing. "We get so bogged down in so much going on that you can … sometimes to be pretty sure about something [that might not have actually happened]," said a middle-aged woman who was selected. Of course, the challenge for the defense is convincing the jury that Libby had the most extraordinarily resilient false memory. Repeated questioning by the FBI and grand jury could not shake his story.

The last time we were in court, the process of picking the 12 jurors and four alternates ground slowly, but Monday the blockage cleared. None of the eight jurors interviewed by the lawyers had conflicts, and no one knew any of the players. Those who did get bounced had the good manners to do it quickly. They made it immediately clear that they couldn't get past their dislike of the Bush administration. They were in and out of the box in about a minute.

The day's smooth glide to a jury was briefly interrupted after lunch for a debate over the last stage of jury selection. The first four days of questioning created a pool of potential jurors. From that pool, defense attorneys could strike 10 jurors, and prosecuting attorneys could exclude six. Lawyers could use those peremptory challenges without explaining their reasoning. Each side also had the power to chuck two alternates. It's like picking teams in a very complicated pickup game.

When lawyers tried to clarify the rules for the process with the judge, everyone seemed to get confused. Would jurors be divided into two pools (jurors and alternates) before the peremptory challenges started or as the process continued? This would influence the way in which the teams used their strikes. The lawyers and the judge had different views of the rules. "I'm sorry to be a geek about this," said Fitzgerald, explaining his opinion of how the order should work. Judge Walton grabbed an enormous book and looked up the rule.

Libby's lawyers, laughing, asked for more time to reorder their list. "We were working over the weekend [about how the selection would work]," said Wells. "We have to revisit how the world looks." This would not have given me confidence, if I were Libby.

The process for discarding jurors was opaque. The lawyers didn't say out loud who they wanted cast off. Instead they handed the clerk a list, and she read it with no indication of which side sent the ejection order. The prosecution presumably struck the two women who said they had a hard time believing anyone would lie. The defense team presumably got rid of the man whose wife worked as a criminal prosecutor, since he might have sympathy for Patrick Fitzgerald's team.

Tomorrow both sides will offer their opening statements, and the press will surge into the courtroom, free from the little room in which we have been sequestered for the jury-selection process. And then we, like Libby, will be able for the next six weeks to study the faces for some clue about whether they think the vice president's former chief of staff was lying or simply had a disastrously faulty memory.

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