Juror's Felony Past Could Undo Cellini Conviction

Cellini's lawyers want new trial

Sunday, Nov 13, 2011  |  Updated 3:38 PM CDT
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Juror's Felony Past Could Undo Cellini Conviction

Sketch by Thomas Gianni

William Cellini might get a new trial, after it's revealed a juror who convicted him was twice convicted of a felony.

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Federal court officials in Chicago are under scrutiny by legal experts after a juror in Illinois powerbroker William Cellini's corruption trial failed to disclose two felony convictions.

Cellini's lead attorney, Dan Webb, has said he will ask a federal judge on Monday to toss both convictions and try his client again after the Chicago Tribune reported Friday that a female juror pleaded guilty to crack-cocaine possession in 2000 and aggravated driving under the influence without a license in 2008. She did not disclose either on her juror questionnaire.

Jurors convicted the Springfield Republican on Nov. 1 of conspiring to extort the Oscar-winning producer of "Million Dollar Baby'' for a $1.5 million donation to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's campaign fund. Cellini's trial was the last stemming from a decade-long investigation of the Democratic governor.

Former Assistant U.S. Atty. Patrick Collins was surprised that background checks of potential jurors weren't conducted, according to the Chicago Tribune. He was lead prosecutor in the 2006 corruption trial of former Gov. George Ryan when two jurors were dismissed during deliberations for failing to disclose arrest records. Both were taken off the jury and replaced by alternates. The jury later convicted the Republican.

After that case federal judges were given the option of having background checks done on prospective jurors in high profile cases.

"What has to be frustrating for all parties is that this situation was preventable,'' Collins told the newspaper. "It's something the court system can and should fix.''

While background checks are common in Cook County criminal courtrooms, it's unclear how often they are performed in Chicago's federal courthouse.

The U.S. attorney's office said last week that convictions aren't an automatic disqualification for jurors.

But some experts thought the case was a good candidate for retrial.

"It's an embarrassment because they didn't catch it and they should have," longtime defense attorney Joseph Lopez told the newspaper. "If Cellini doesn't get a retrial, I don't know what case ever will. It's ridiculous that it happened again. The only thing you can do is throw the verdict in the trash can and start all over again."

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