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The [Sunday] Papers

Count me among those stunned that the defense in particular apparently didn't do a background check on jurors in the George Ryan trial.

I guess $10 million doesn't go as far as it used to.

It strains credulity to think that today's sophisticated jury consulting doesn't include gathering every single fact possible on every single juror, including their favorite colors so lawyers can choose the most advantageous wardrobe and their favorite TV shows so a reference or two can be dropped into closing arguments.

But then, maybe Dan Webb is so brilliant that he doesn't need no stinkin' jury consultants.

Prosecutors get a little more slack, though the Chicago Tribune reported on Sunday that some state prosecutors, including those in the Cook County State's Attorney's Office, say they routinely background prospective jurors for criminal records.

Federal prosecutors, the paper says, rarely if ever do background checks on jurors.

I bet they do from now on.

But somehow we don't expect prosecutors to be wily and manipulative and free-spending with their time and money. But the defense?

The Tribune says that the Webb team has never disclosed whether it hired consultants, but it's unthinkable that they would go to court without jury experts involved in some capacity in a case as momentous as an ex-governor (and close friend of the law firm Winston & Strawn) on trial.

The more skeptical among us might wonder if Webb knew all along about the allegedly untruthful jurors and hoped to use the information to cause a mistrial or set up an appeal--regardless of whether he tipped the Trib or not.

The Tribune, however, hasn't indicated that anything but its own imagination led to undertaking background checks (perhaps in anticipation of interviewing jurors after a verdict).

It also would be a risk I would guess even Webb would not likely take.

"[T]he defense lawyers would have been obligated, as officers of the court, to reveal to prosecutors and [the judge] if they had discovered that a juror had been untruthful on a questionnaire," the Tribune says.

The Tribune, meanwhile, appears to have faced quite an ethical dilemma. Because of a gag order issued in the case, the paper did not seek to interview the jurors in question. The lawyers are also under a gag order. That doesn't preclude the newspaper from asking questions, but to do so would be asking sources to violate the judge's order not to speak. It would be within the newspaper's legal rights (as I understand it) to do so, and the media often asks sources to violate confidentiality agreements and orders of all kinds in order to expose truths. But in this case (as I see it), it would not have been the ethical thing to do as it would be tantamount to tampering with the jury. So while it feels uncomfortable that the paper reported its findings to the judge (or perhaps did so in seeking her comment) before publishing them, I'm not sure the paper had any other option.

If you have a different or clarifying point of view on this aspect of the case, send your comment to me or post an entry in our forums.

Onion or New York Times?
"Rumsfeld: Iraqis Now Capable Of Conducting War Without U.S. Assistance"

Stop Shilling
The recent Chicago Reader story about Stop Smiling magazine (see the item here titled "Why Is Daley Smiling?") says the publication has a circulation of 60,000, a figure I'm guessing the writer got from Stop Smiling's editors. The magazine's media kit, however, states that Stop Smiling has only 12,000 subscriptions. It claims newsstand sales of 45,000, but I suspect that number reflects how many magazines they ship to newsstands, not how many they sell. At Chicago magazine, for example, they work very hard to sell 20,000 issues off the newsstand each month. I'm just sayin'.

Start Drinking
The president and chief nuclear officer (that's what it says!) of Exelon Nuclear had his Letter to the Editor complaining about coverage of tritium leaks at an area plant published in the Tribune on Sunday.

"[T]here is no health or safety hazard to our neighbors at Braidwood as a result of tritium leaks from the Braidwood Station--contrary to the inflammatory statements that have been made by subjects in the story about this issue," wrote Chris Crane, top dog at Exelon Nuclear.

And that may be true. But will it be true the next time a leak occurs? And if it is true, is Crane willing to drink a couple glassfuls of the tritium-laced water?

Q is for Quagmire
"Lose Your Pants?" (This is the print headline; Web headlines differ but are equally, um, compelling.)

Judge Grudge
Chicago Sun-Times business editor Dan Miller is an election judge on the North Side. Has been for many years. Is this appropriate? Should journalists be involved in running elections that their papers cover? (Or even those they don't . . . ) What if Miller's polling place became a source of controversy?

Apparently the editors at the Sun-Times don't have a problem with Miller's sidelight because on Sunday they published his account of this year's polling problems.

Miller's political affiliation is irrelevant to the ethical issue, and he didn't reveal it in his piece. But just so you know, his background offers a few clues: Republican Gov. Jim Edgar appointed Miller to a four-year term as chairman of the Illinois Commerce Commission in 1996. Following that stint Miller worked as a vice president at the libertarian/conservative Heartland Institute before joining the Sun-Times. (Before the ICC, Miller worked at the Chicago Daily News and Crain's Chicago Business.)

In a Binder
James Merriner clears up a few things in Sunday's Sun-Times about the mob, JFK, and the 1960 election. Best of all, he responds to a comment made last week in the paper by University of Illinois at Chicago professor John Binder, who asked: "How in God's name is Sam Giancana going to get anything done in West Virginia? They don't have any influence there."

Because it's not as if the Chicago Outfit's influence ever extended beyond the city limits. For example, could you imagine the Grand Avenue crew having influence in, say, a place as far west as Nevada?

"Giancana got things done [in West Virginia] by dropping money on the county sheriffs," Merriner wrote Sunday. "I grew up in Appalachia and understand these things . . . he passed the cash to sheriffs through a gambling figure in Atlantic City."

Imagine that.

Heart to Hart
Betsy Hart compares anti-smoking forces to the Taliban in her weekly commentary in the Sun-Times on Sunday.

Which might make sense if those wanting to ban smoking in public places wanted to penalize smokers with execution (or maybe execution for merely switching to an unapproved brand), but otherwise it's maybe trivializing and disrespectful to the victims of the Taliban's murderous religious crusade, including those who died on 9/11 and in combat since.

Just a thought.

Recommended Reads

Mary Mitchell on a murder in Englewood that didn't capture the media's imagination.

A Tribune report that acknowledges late in the story the impact of Neil Steinberg's controversial column on the Cook County Board race--without naming Steinberg.

Dale Bowman in an exclusive interview with James "Pepsi" Buonomo on Joey "Doves" Aiuppa and The Case of the World-Record Muskie.

Paige Wiser on Forbes magazine's list of most important tools ever. "Would the wrench edge out the pliers?" she wonders. "Where would the paper towel rank?"

The Beachwood Tip Line: Better than the paper towel, but maybe not so good as the wrench and pliers.


Posted on March 27, 2006

MUSIC - Lyric Opera Strike Settled.
POLITICS - USA Today's Op-Ed Disaster.
SPORTS - SportsMonday: Come On, Vic!

BOOKS - Chicago Book Haul: The Dial.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Chicagoetry: West Town Blues.

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