The judge presiding over the tax-evasion trial of an influential Chicago Democrat imposed a gag order Wednesday on the attorneys handling the case after one of the defense lawyers said jury-pool selection was "rigged."
Sam Adam Jr., an attorney for William Beavers, angrily told reporters Tuesday that he was "outraged" there were no black men in the 50-person jury pool. He suggested its composition was somehow fixed in advance. Beavers is black.
Judge James Zagel did not refer directly to Adam's comments but said public statements from attorneys in public during a trial "frequently distracts the lawyers from the purpose of the case."
Zagel said he'll have zero tolerance for lawyers speaking to reporters. He said they can't even talk about scheduling issues.
"When I say statements, I mean no statement ... not until the trial is over," he said sternly.
Trial prosecutors have not spoken to media in public about the case, while defense attorneys have addressed TV cameras and reporters almost daily.
Sam Adam Sr. and his lawyer son, Sam Adam Jr., who is also representing Beavers, are well-known for their super-charged, often witty and sometimes inflammatory commentary on behalf of their clients, as well as for a fondness for playing to TV cameras. They are the same lawyers who represented former Gov. Rod Blagojevich in his first trial.
Jury selection is done using a random system and is carried out by an independent office within the federal courthouse in Chicago. A jury was expected to be impaneled later Wednesday.
Just after an initial pool of 50 would-be jurors took an oath early Tuesday afternoon and left the federal courtroom in Chicago, another member of the defense team, Victor Henderson, rose to note the absence of black men among them.
"To our astonishment, there is not one African-American male ... and only a few black women," he said. Beavers, 78, has a right to be judged by a jury of his peers, including black men, Henderson added.
Outside court later, Sam Adam Sr. went further, saying he had never seen a jury pool without at least one African-American male in his more than 50 years practicing in federal court.
"This is outrageous," he told reporters. "It could not happen by accident. This is all rigged someplace."
Beavers has pleaded not guilty to charges he diverted more than $225,000 from campaign coffers to support a gambling habit and for other personal use without reporting it on 2006 through 2008 returns.
His lawyers have argued that his is essentially a case of no harm, no foul — that he paid back the money at issue and amended his returns, albeit only after he learned he was under investigation in 2009.
Copyright Associated Press