Lawyers defending former Gov. John Rowland against campaign corruption charges are insistent that, because of heavy publicity, they should get more chances than a typical defendant to reject jurors without stating a reason.
Rowland, who previously served 10 months in federal prison on a conspiracy charge after resigning the governor’s office in 2004, is facing seven new federal charges relating to consulting work the former governor performed in 2012 for 5th Congressional District candidate Lisa Wilson-Foley. That work and Rowland’s $35,000 compensation weren’t reported to election regulators.
Rowland has pleaded not guilty to the charges. His trial is scheduled to begin on Sept. 3. But before that, his lawyers and prosecutors will spend more than a week in August selecting a jury to hear the case.
Typically, in a case like Rowland’s, lawyers are allowed 10 passes to dismiss a potential juror without having to explain their reasoning and two additional passes for alternate jurors. The passes are called peremptory challenges.
However, Rowland’s lawyers have asked the court to allow them five additional peremptory challenges based on the extent of media coverage related to the case.
Prosecutor’s scoffed at the request, pointing out that the defense sought more challenges than the number awarded to lawyers for Zacharias Moussaoui, the man who, after a lengthy trial eventually pleaded guilty to taking part in the 9/11 terrorism attacks.
“That is, in the prosecution of the most heinous crime in American history, the trial court awarded two additional peremptory challenges. The defendant in this case seeks five additional peremptory challenges,” they wrote.
Last week, Judge Janet Bond Arterton granted some additional jury screening tools to Rowland’s lawyers but denied their request for additional peremptory challenges.
On Monday, the former governor’s legal team responded to the judge’s decision by signaling they will make the request again after jury selection begins.
“We believe that, once jury selection is under way, the strong need for additional peremptory challenges will be evident,” they wrote. “And, as demonstrated by Mr. Rowland’s opening brief, courts retain the inherent power to allow for additional peremptory challenges to combat pre-trial publicity.”
The defense attorneys are also seeking the right to question jurors about their exposure to the case again when the trial begins in September. They reason that jurors will face a “significant temptation” to discuss or research the case in the weeks between jury selection and the beginning of the trial.
“And even the most vigilant and well-intentioned of jurors run a real risk of inadvertent exposure to inappropriate outside information on the case,” they wrote.
In their original request, filed in May, Rowland’s lawyers argued that the publicity surrounding the case had already “created a toxic environment among potential jurors.”
“Our system of justice depends upon trial in the courtroom, not in the media. That principle is under threat here. Mr. Rowland has been the subject of an exceptional amount of pre-trial publicity, much of which discusses Mr. Rowland’s past conviction and assumes Mr. Rowland is guilty of the charges currently lodged against him,” they wrote.
The legal team has also reserved the right to take other steps, such as requesting a change of venue in an effort to combat publicity.
In addition to his tenure as governor, Rowland is known to many Connecticut residents for his time working as the host of an afternoon drive political talk show on WTIC. Rowland resigned from that job in April.
Prosecutors accused Rowland’s attorney Reid Weingarten of “fueling” the news media coverage by making a statement to reporters on the steps of a federal courthouse in April.