Defense lawyers' gripe over media coverage full of irony - Fox 2 News Headlines

Defense lawyers' gripe over media coverage full of irony

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DETROIT (MyFox Detroit) -

Some days -- most days -- covering the legal system in these parts requires a healthy sense of irony.

Take Tuesday.

After days of griping to reporters about "stealth jurors" lying to get on the Kilpatrick & Co. jury, defense lawyers spent the morning griping about a Detroit Free Press report that revealed a woman who lied about her background got on the jury for the Bobby Ferguson bid-rigging case. The story was significant because the juror turned out to be the hold-out whom her colleagues now blame for the case ending in a mistrial.

Since jury selection began two weeks ago in the Kilpatrick case, Kilpatrick attorney James Thomas has led a battery of defense attorneys in grilling potential jurors with just about any question they can think of. On Tuesday, Thomas and his colleagues told U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Edmunds that they are worried jurors will be harassed by reporters. They said they believe the Free Press report is another sign the media is out to get any juror who returns what the media deems is a wrong verdict. In this case, they said, that would be a not guilty verdict.

(I won't bother trying to convince you that the media is so disorganized it couldn't concoct a conspiracy, let alone pull one off. I'll just note that one of the Free Press' best reporters -- and the first guy I'd enlist to help pull off a caper -- came to court Tuesday uncertain of the correct date!)  Thomas also said media coverage presents a "clear and present danger" to Kilpatrick and his family, citing the hateful comments some readers have posted on the newspapers' websites after stories like Monday's.

This is an old Kilpatrick trick, most memorably used after Kilpatrick dropped the N-bomb during his final State of the City speech in 2008.

During that diatribe, the then-mayor said the stories stemming from the text message scandal Jim Schaefer and I broke earlier that year prompted unprecedented harassment of his family and more people calling him the N-word than he'd ever experienced. Afterward, I asked a trusted Kilpatrick insider for copies of any messages or letters Kilpatrick had received that would support those claims. After a lot of hemming and hawing, it turned out Kilpatrick was referring to comments posted on the newspapers' websites.

Now I don't condone hateful speech in any form or forum, but obviously nothing came of those cowardly comments posted in the wee hours of the morning by crackers and cretins still living in their parents' basement.

Still, Edmunds said she, too, was concerned that jurors might be bothered. It's why she's keeping their names secret, though she and the defense attorneys occasionally divulge details about them that could make it fairly easy to figure out who they are. Nevertheless, she declined to rule on the defense attorneys' request to move the trial. She'll take the matter up Thursday, but I'm not expecting to have to pack my bags. As assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Chutkow, one of the prosecutors, pointed out: Reporters are going to do what they're going to do no matter where they are.

While I'm listing the ironies abounding in the courthouse, it's worth noting that in the midst of all this talk about bias, the media are the only people in the courtroom (other than the judge) whose profession demands that they remain objective. The lawyers, on the other hand, are paid handsomely to provide only their client's side of a story.

But perhaps the greatest irony is that the lawyers' own questioning revealed that almost none of the potential jurors reads a newspaper, let alone the Free Press. And there is little chance the media could get jurors to do its bidding -- even if HAD a bidding.

Virtually every person who has made it to the final round of jury selection has said that they don't trust the media. Or they believe headlines contain a lot of hype.

"I really don't have a lot of faith in the media," said one potential juror. That's a hard thing for a reporter to hear, but we've heard it many times over the past two weeks.

If the lawyers truly trust in the system, as they often say they do, they might take comfort in the comments of another potential juror.

"I think this is a very serious trial, affecting people's lives," he said. "I don't think I would worry about the media, I would worry about the facts of the case."

Then again, he was one of the jurors the defense attorneys asked Edmunds to reject.

She declined, explaining that she believed he could be fair.

Finally, in the interest of full disclosure, you should know that the reporter who wrote the Free Press story that set off Tuesday's firestorm is my wife, Tresa Baldas.

Like the attorneys, I have a few bones to pick with Tresa. But fairness isn't one of them.

And, in the end, I suspect little will come of our grievances.

Follow M.L. Elrick's coverage of the Kilpatrick & Co. trial daily on Fox 2 and at www.myfoxdetroit.com. Contact him at ml.elrick@foxtv.com or via Twitter or Facebook.

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