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The [Thursday] Papers

Worst Jury Ever?

Let's review.

1. Cynthia McFadden is removed from the George Ryan jury for not only sleeping but snoring during the trial, as well as doing crossword puzzles. During the trial. In the juror's box.

2. Evelyn Ezell is removed for failing to disclose on her juror questionnaire that she had previously been charged with misdemeanor child neglect, assault, weapons possession and drug possession.

3. Robert Pavlick is removed for not disclosing numerous DUI arrests.

4. Sonja Chambers, juror foreperson, is not removed but discovered to have failed to disclose court filings in three counties related to her divorce and the seeking of orders of protection, as well as a civil lawsuit brought against her by a furniture company.

5. Kevin Rein is not removed but failed to disclose his 1980 arrest for hitting his pregnant 17-year-old sister, reportedly during an argument over cats.

6. Charles Svymbersky is not removed but failed to disclose his 1983 guilty plea for stealing a bike.

7. Raul Casino is not removed but failed to disclose his 1962 DUI arrest.

8. Jill DiMartino is not removed but admitted that after deliberations began she was questioned about the case by her daughter, friends, and co-workers.


Is this typical of most juries? Or do we have a special collection of miscreants here?

Yes, I've seen the commentary fretting that the Ryan jurors are now under attack and that the scrutiny isn't fair.

It is fair.

A jury empaneled to hear one of the most important cases in state history ought to be one of unquestioned integrity. (As should all juries, of course, but the scope and nature of this case demands an even more unusual level of bias-free judgement and attentiveness.)

The jury ought to be even more upstanding than the prosecution and defense, given that those parties are advocates with agendas.

The jury ought to stand with the judge as representatives acting on our behalf, for you and me.

So I don't find it so easy to dismiss these revelations, as much as I agree with the jury's findings.

It is more important that the process be one that is brimming with integrity, and has our full confidence as a result. Justice demands it.

Sure, a stolen bike charge in 1983 sounds about as nitpicky as you can get. And a DUI charge from 1962 sounds like ancient history (though one could easily imagine that a single such incident could form lifelong thoughts about DUI laws and the secretaries of state who help enforce them.)

But the point isn't the nature of the undisclosed charges, it's that they were undisclosed to begin with.

Whether the questions on the jury form we're confusing - and they don't sound confusing to me and I don't think any parent out there would let their kids get away with failing to disclose answers to such questions based on the questions being poorly worded - it happened.

Now there are two questions.

Did George Ryan get a fair trial? That will be decided through the appeals process.

Do we as the public have confidence in the jury system as it is currently constructed?

It may only be a matter of a few tweaks, like requiring background checks on all prospective jurors, but if this jury is typical, I'd say the answer to that second question is no.

As Yet Undisclosed: Is this jury typical? I mean, do most juries have as many members whose backgrounds include so many run-ins with the law? What are the chances? How does this collection of folks compare to the general population. I mean, I have friends who have had their problems but I'm not sure any 12 of us could match this jury. And that's not to say previous legal issues should disqualify someone from sitting on a jury. It's to say there is a reason why prospective jurors are asked to disclose such information - so the officers of the court can make the proper determination of whether they are still capable of performing their duties with the utmost integrity demanded by a upright criminal justice system.

Captive Audience: Several of the jurors have been accused by defense lawyers of buying newspapers during the trial. Hey, a new market! With trial news cut out in advance, perhaps replaced by ads for PR consultants and book agents.

But between the newspaper purchases and Chambers's talk with Dennis the Coffee Guy, who then phoned that radio station, and DiMartino's discussions with her friends and family, you have to wonder why the jury wasn't sequestered.

The Chicago Sun-Times found Dennis, by the way.

Webb's Ways: Master of the Universe Dan Webb's furious attempts down the stretch to use the jury issues to get a mistrial take a bit of the edge off his explanation for not putting Ryan on the stand, as repeatedly and confidently promised: That the government had so spectacularly failed to prove their case that it wasn't necessary.

More Webby Ways: Webb fought to keep the sleeping juror on the panel, which also seems to indicate what kind of case he truly thought he had. Though to be fair to the juror, the Daily Herald reports that her sleeping problem was due to medication.

Court of Public Opinion: I'm filing a motion today asking that Sneed be removed from the newspaper for failing to disclose what an affront to journalism she is.

This Just In: My motion was denied because Sneed discloses it almost every day.

Planet Tribune: The Chicago Tribune somehow thinks there is a more important story today to strip across its front page than the Ryan juror mess. Perhaps they are still patting themselves on the back for their front page exclusive yesterday that took us inside the jury room but not inside the jurors' deliberations - or into the judge's chambers where the real action was.

Massive Misses: The Tribune also owes its readers another explanation, this time about how it missed particularly the background on Chambers, but also the others. I don't mean that in an accusatory way - I suspect the tools available to us journalists may not reach back to ancient stolen bike cases - but just by way of explanation. Every other news agency missed this stuff too. At least the Tribune got the ball rolling, however incomplete its reporting turned out to be.

A Note From Beachwood HQ
The Ryan trial has so dominated The Papers this week that we've missed bringing you all sorts of other news, such as the Tribune being shut out of the Pulitzers, buy-outs at the Sun-Times, and items related to Bleacher Bums; Espoo, Finland; and The Decider.

We'll prepare a Ryan-free column sweeping up the week's crucial tidbits just for your pleasure, and post it tomorrow with or without another Ryan column, depending on developments.

A raft of new postings in all sections will also begin appearing later today, tomorrow, and through the weekend, and hopefully soon you will begin to see the fruits of our efforts on the business side.

Thanks for reading - in the first half of April our traffic doubled from the entire month of March, when we launched. Please keep spreading the word so we can sustain, expand, and improve what we do, because we do it all for you. And so that none of us ever has to work a real job again. But still, for you, too.

The Beachwood Tip Line: Background check not required.


Posted on April 20, 2006

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