The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Wednesday, January 21, 2004  

Jury Selection Takes Up the First Day of Proceedings

The federal case of alleged securities fraud and obstruction against media mogul Martha Stewart and her former stockbroker, Peter Bacanovic, began yesterday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

By all accounts it was an uneventful day, at least from a “story” standpoint. Jury selection, already underway, occupied the first day of proceedings in the courtroom of Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum.

Making the best of what, from their perspective at least, was clearly an unfavorable situation, New York Times reporters Leslie Eaton and Constance L. Hays in today’s article (“With Smiles and Kisses, Stewart Trial Commences”) focused primarily on irrelevant color commentary, to wit:

When Ms. Stewart arrived at the courthouse at 9:20 a.m., in a hired black Lincoln, Centre Street was lined with a dozen white television trucks sprouting giant antennas, satellite dishes, or both. Ms. Stewart’s blonde hair shielded her face as she exited the car, but she pushed it back as she climbed the steps, wearing a wrap-around coat, brown trousers and high-heeled brown boots.

Mr. Bacanovic arrived five minutes later, emerging from a black GMC Denali sport utility vehicle wearing a blue tie, charcoal suit and navy overcoat. After entering the courtroom, he stopped at Ms. Stewart’s chair and was kissed on both cheeks by her.

Also taking space in the Times this morning is the reporters reporting on their fellow reporters, including this inane tidbit: “The jury selection process left about two dozen restless reporters to rattle around in the big marble-and-wood-paneled courtroom, along with some court officers and members of the jury pool (the number of prospective jurors and the number of reporters dwindled as the day wore on).”

The reporters also note, however, that both Stewart and Bacanovic yesterday were arraigned for the second time “because the government revised its indictment earlier this month.” As expected, both pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Given the day’s challenges, and lack of hard news, it’s no surprise The Wall Street Journal’s coverage was only slightly better, though Kara Scannell reported (Stewart Trial Opens Quietly Amid Clamor.” [Subscription required.]), stating the -- I think -- obvious:

“Behind the scenes, meanwhile, prosecutors turned over witness statements and other material to Ms. Stewart’s lawyers. The documents, which always are handed over before testimony begins, will give them a look at what they can expect the government’s witnesses to say, including the key witness, Douglas Faneuil, who was Mr. Bacanovic’s assistant at Merrill Lynch & Co. That could help them shape their defense.

And Scannell, reporting about what surely was a difficult, even humiliating, moment for both Stewart and Bacanovic, writes: “Following the arraignment, nearly three-dozen potential jurors filed into the courtroom and Judge Cedarbaum introduced them to Ms. Stewart and Mr. Bacanovic, along with their lawyers and the prosecutors, who at the judge’s request each stood and turned to face the potential jurors.”

Expectations of a plea bargain, to the extent there still are any, continue to dissipate. “People close to the case say there are no plea-bargain negotiations under way,” Scannell reports. “Before her indictment in June, Ms. Stewart was negotiating a plea to making false statements to federal officials. Prosecutors insisted on prison time. Ms. Stewart balked, and the talks fell apart.”

Jail time. For what so far appears to be a flimsy, to say nothing of overreaching, case. I told you the lead prosecutor, Karen Seymour was delusional. I hope the jury agrees.

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