Wed, Apr 3, 2013 at 7:02 PM
TRANSFORM NOW UPDATE
THE MAY 7 TRIAL DATE IS ON!
Today was the day we met our new judge; Amul Thapar came
down from Covington, KY to take over the Transform Now Plowshares case
from the docket of retiring judge Thomas Phillips. Thapar was
appointed ten days ago and last week called a status conference. So
Greg got on a bus in Duluth and Megan and Michael caught the megabus
in Washington, DC. Bill Quigley and Sara Godchaux drove up from
Louisiana and Anabel and David Dwyer came down from Michigan.
There were a dozen supporters in the courtroom for what we
expected would be a brief meeting; Judge Thapar took the bench about a
half hour late and jumped right in to the business. He reviewed the
motions and recommendations that were pending and then said, “We are
scheduled for trial on May 7. Is there any reason we can not keep to
that date?” Melissa Kirby for the prosecution said, “No, your honor,”
and it was all but done.
The Judge assured all parties that he would do his
homework, but he hadn’t done it yet, and that became clear as we
sorted out the process thus far. “Walk me through this,” he said on
more than one occasion. It was also clear that, for better or worse,
the judge does not know the lay of the land in East Tennessee; is
there a reason you schedule trials to start on Tuesday? The answer:
there is often a lot of business to clean up on Monday, plus it allows
a jury pool to be gathered and prepared. Judge Thapar nodded. It
showed again when he got to jury selection (see below).
Francis Lloyd noted that in previous trials for lesser
offenses the defense was to proffer expert testimony before the judge
ruled what would and would not be allowed in front of the jury. Judge
Thapar said, “I’ll hear anything you have to say,” and set the date
for hearing proffered testimony for April 23.
We moved on to jury selection and the Judge outlines his
intentions. Defense would get 45 minutes and prosecution 30 minutes.
Chris Irwin noted there were multiple defendants and the Judge
stretched the time to an hour. Francis Lloyd noted voir dire might
take longer than usual because there had been a great amount of press
coverage, and this is a complex and far reaching case. “The action of
these defendants has cost people their jobs and, arguably, cost
companies their contracts. There is reason to wonder if we can find an
impartial jury here.” The Judge stretched his limits, extended the
time for voire dire and outlining how it would go. He said, “I’m not
going to be over restrictive with this. If the questions are
legitimate and are going somewhere, I’m not going to call time. On the
other hand if the questions are repetitive, I will call time.”
The Judge also asked how many people should be summoned
for the jury pool; in the end they want 32 qualified jurors. Francis
Lloyd suggested three times the total needed; Assistant District
Attorney Kirby agreed there was a lot more publicity than last time,
but thought fewer might suffice. “Maybe,” the Judge considered, “We
can look at how it was last time.” Francis demurred.
“This is not the same as last time,” said the Judge, “but
I don’t believe people believe everything they read in the newspaper.
Jurors will be able to distinguish between what they read and what
they hear.” Francis Lloyd said he worried that jurors might lack the
judge’s acumen. “I was just kidding about the media,” said the Judge.
“But jurors know the media has a different standard than the
Francis said, “It’s not only the number of articles, but
the nature. There were articles in local, national and even
international media, especially referencing the maximum possible
sentence.” Bill Quigley noted the jury would be asked to take a
serious look at claims of national security.
In the end, the Judge said he might exclude jurors from
Anderson County (the County Y12 and most of the Oak Ridge Reservation
live in). Francis noted there are still conflicts with people who work
for a plethora of contractors. “Anyone who works for one of those
contractors is potentially biased.”
“There’s a difference between potentially biased and
actually,” said Thapar. “Well,” said Francis, “I believe I would be
awfully suspicious of a juror employed by a contractor.” The Judge
said perhaps he would call 70 jurors. Chris Irwin asked, “Seventy
jurors and we have an hour to question them?” The Judge bumped the
time to 1 ½ hours for the defense and one hour for the government.
Near the end of the session, the prosecutor, Melissa Kirby,
told the judge that during the previous trial, people outside
the court had been handing our leaflets and one of the jurors had a
leaflet. She suggested the judge do what he could to prevent that.
She noted that many of the people who handed out leaflets were in
the courtroom at that moment.
Bill Quigley jumped to a nice defense of the First
Amendment, but it didn’t seem terribly necessary after all. Francis
pointed out that as jurors approached on the first day, they would not
be identifiable. The Judge noted he had no power to control what
people might or might not do. And he admonished that any effort made
to “taint the jury” would be punished.
That was about it. The lawyers have dates for getting the
last motions in and presenting the judge with a list of potential
witnesses in the April 23 hearing. The hearing is scheduled for
For more information on this update: Ralph Hutchison 865 776 5050
For other information: www.transformnowplowshares.wordpress.com