Former Luzerne County Judge Mark CiavarellaTimes Leader File Photo
SCRANTON – Prosecutors and defense attorneys in the corruption trial of former Judge Mark Ciavarella will begin questioning a pool of 95 potential jurors this morning in hopes of finding a panel of 12 jurors and four alternates.
Jury selection is set to begin at 8:30 a.m. before U.S. District Judge Edwin Kosik in the federal courthouse in Scranton. Attorneys in the case have estimated the process will take at least a week, possibly longer.
Ciavarella’s attorneys, Al Flora and William Ruzzo, had requested that each juror be questioned individually, arguing it would allow attorneys a better opportunity to detect any biases or opinions about Ciavarella’s guilt or innocence.
Kosik denied that request, but left open the possibility of changing his mind once he sees how the selection process is progressing. Kosik has also left open the possibility the trial could be changed to another jurisdiction if he finds an impartial panel cannot be found.
The exact process by which the jurors will be selected remained unclear as of Friday, but it’s expected Kosik will assemble the jury pool in a courtroom and ask questions that will be answered simultaneously by all.
Dr. Richard Waites of The Advocates, a national trial consulting firm with offices in 17 cities, said the defense and prosecution will each be given a certain number of pre-emptory challenges, which means they can strike any juror for any reason. They do not have to reveal their reasoning.
In most cases each side is given six pre-emptory challenges, Waites said. Ciavarella’s attorneys had sought 10 such challenges.
It’s not known whether Kosik had ruled on that matter yet.
Waites said he expects each side will also be given an unlimited number of challenges “for cause.”
In those cases, the defense or prosecution must state the reason for ousting a potential juror, such as the person expressed an opinion about the defendant’s guilt or innocence. The opposing party can object to the challenge.
Kosik would then decide if the challenge was valid.
Waites has no direct connection to the Ciavarella case. Speaking generally, he said the jury-selection process is one of the most crucial aspects of any case.
The defense and prosecution will each be searching for the “ideal juror” they believe will respond best to their presentation.
Two of the most important areas attorneys will be looking at are a person’s attitude toward the specific case and life experiences they have had that may be similar to an issue in the case.
“The makeup of a jury can make or break a case,” Waites said. “Jurors come into jury selection with thousands of attitudes about things and life experiences. The question in every jury selection is whether those attitudes and life experiences are relative in this particular case.”
Another key assessment attorneys will use is the “authoritarian rating” of each juror, he said.
People who are highly authoritarian believe in the rule of law and that if someone breaks the law, that person should be found guilty, regardless of the situation, Waites said.
“There’s no gray about it,” he said.
Those with a low authoritarian rating believe there are laws that must be obeyed, but they believe every situation has to be judged independently, he said.
“For the prosecution, they’re going to want high authoritarians who are easily made to be angry or incensed by a judge who would break the rules,” he said. “These people are generally very scrutinizing and very detail oriented.
“The defense wasn’t the mirror opposite. They want people who are global thinkers who have had a good life and are not suspicious of other people. They would go into a trial thinking someone would never do something like this. They want to see the prosecution’s evidence.”