NOVEMBER 30, 2007
In an unusual ruling, a Pennsylvania federal judge has ordered the rare practice of seating an anonymous jury in the public corruption trial of a former county official, although neither side has requested it.
The defendant is a nationally renowned medical examiner accused of using his taxpayer-funded county staff to do work for his private multimillion-dollar pathology practice while he was coroner in the southwestern Pennsylvania county of Allegheny.
The 75-year-old pathologist, Dr. Cyril Wecht, resigned from his county job earlier this year after he was indicted by a federal grand jury for theft, mail and wire fraud. He has claimed that the charges were filed by a politically motivated Republican Justice Department with a vendetta against him simply because he is a Democrat.
Wecht’s trial is scheduled to begin at the end of January 2008 and his attorney’s are fighting the judge’s strange and unexplained anonymous jury order because, they say, being able to know and observe your jury is one of the most important rights you have in court.
Judge Schwab’s order, which was not requested by government lawyers either, means that jurors’ names and addresses will not be known to defense lawyers, prosecutors or the public. Legal experts say the practice, which predates the Constitution, is practically unheard of in federal or state court.
The first anonymous jury in U.S. history sat in the 1977 New York federal trial of drug lord Leroy Barnes. Only two anonymous federal juries have been seated in Pittsburgh, the first in the 2005 trial of a cocaine ring leader because jurors feared for their lives and the second in the death penalty trial of a drug dealer who ordered the killing of a police informant’s father.
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