|Gov. Edwin Edwards
BATON ROUGE, La. The federal corruption trial of former Gov.
Edwin Edwards and Insurance Commissioner Jim Brown was expected to continue
today just the way it started, slowly and quietly.
Jury selection stopped late yesterday evening with no jurors seated
and the courtroom cleared of spectators and reporters.
"Long and slow, long and slow," Brown said during the lunch break
yesterday. And at the end of the day he warned, "All day tomorrow."
U.S. District Judge Edith Brown Clement cleared the courtroom and
later denied motions by media lawyers to either let the public back in or delay
jury selection until the matter could be heard by a higher court.
The only hint at her reasoning was one sentence accompanying her
denial of the motion for a delay: "Follow-up questioning deals with potential
bias, which is conducted outside the presence of the public."
Attorneys representing the media outlets have appealed Clement's
decision to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
An anonymous jury is to be seated in the case, but it was not clear
whether Clement intended to keep the courtroom closed throughout jury
The motion filed by the media outlets with the 5th Circuit says no
precedent exists for the judge's actions, The (Baton Rouge) Advocate reported today.
The Advocate is one of the
organizations appealing Clement's order.
According to The Advocate,
the motion also emphasizes that the press and the public have a considerable
interest in viewing the jury selection, which is a significant part of any
"The public's right to know is particularly compelling where, as here,
a criminal trial involves allegations of wrongdoing by public officials," the
appeal says, as reported in The
|Attorney Edward Castaing Jr. yesterday holds his throat
indicating the gag order which will not allow him to comment on the Baton
Rouge, La., federal insurance fraud trial of former Gov. Edwin Edwards, Ronald
Weems and Jim Brown. Castaing is representing Weems in the case.
Louisiana State University law professor and former U.S. Attorney Ray
Lamonica said Clement's move was uncommon.
Lamonica said potential jurors who would like to discuss sensitive
matters with the judge, such as medical questions, typically approach the
bench, out of the earshot of the press and other witnesses.
"If the entire question of bias of jurors is being explored as a
sensitive, personal matter, that is an extension of usual procedure," Lamonica
Media lawyers asked that the remaining jury selection be immediately
opened to the public and transcripts released of the portions held behind
About 100 potential jurors were brought into the courtroom before it
was cleared of reporters and spectators, including relatives of the defendants.
Clement explained to them that their identities would not be made public.
"In a high-profile case, with high-profile defendants, prudence
dictates certain steps be taken in order to maintain the integrity of the
jury," Clement said.
Edwards, Brown and Shreveport attorney Ronald Weems are accused of
working out an illegal sweetheart liquidation scheme for the now-defunct
Cascade Insurance Co.
The men, who are muzzled under a sweeping gag order, are accused of
helping the owner of Cascade create a sham financial settlement and try to
derail a proposed $27 million lawsuit related to Cascade's liquidation in
The state took over the firm, which sold automobile insurance, in 1993
because the company could not pay its debts. The state collected $2.5 million
for Cascade's creditors. Prosecutors say much more money should have been
Edwards, Brown and Weems are charged with insurance, mail and wire
fraud and conspiracy in the 57-count indictment. Brown and Weems also are
charged with lying to investigators.
Three men have pleaded guilty and will testify against Edwards, Brown
and Weems, who all deny any wrongdoing.