A lawyer for William Cellini — the Springfield power broker convicted early this month in a corruption case linked to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich — said Friday he will try to have the verdict thrown out and a mistrial declared, based on a juror’s apparently undisclosed felony convictions.
During jury selection in the case, the female juror answered “yes” on a questionnaire and wrote “DUI” in response to a question that asked whether she had ever been arrested or convicted of a crime, according to a statement by the U.S. District Court’s clerk of court’s office.
But, when asked during jury selection about that answer, the juror, who lives on the South Side of Chicago, said the was referring to a relative’s criminal conviction and not her own, saying it was “someone else” and that it had happened three to four years ago.
“No other arrests or convictions were mentioned in the juror’s questionnaire or in oral voir dire,” U.S. Clerk of Court Michael Dobbins said.
Nor did the juror disclose any other convictions or arrests in a juror qualification form mailed to the juror, though now, Dobbins said, “It has recently come to the court’s attention that this juror has two felony convictions.”
The information was first reported by the Chicago Tribune .
“We are in the process of preparing a motion for a mistrial,” said former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb, the attorney for the millionaire businessman convicted of trying to shake down the producer of the movie “Million Dollar Baby” for campaign money for Blagojevich. “We have a juror who was legally not qualified to serve as a juror. We will be filing a motion for a mistrial Monday morning. We believe the two counts of conviction have to be thrown out. The two most important counts that were not guilty should not be thrown out because they would fall under the double-jeopardy clause.”
Criminal-background checks were not run on the jurors in the Cellini case, which U.S. District Judge James Zagel presided over. Previously, Zagel had run background checks on jurors in the case of former Gov. Blagojevich.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office put out a statement Friday saying that a felony conviction wouldn’t automatically disqualify a juror from serving.
Under federal law, the reasons that a juror can’t serve including having “a charge pending against him for the commission of, or has been convicted in a state or federal court of record of, a crime punishable by imprisonment for more than one year and his civil rights have not been restored.”
There’s a question, though — and an expected legal fight — over when someone’s “civil rights” have been restored.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office said: “Federal law disqualifies persons who have been convicted of felonies from serving on juries only so long as their ‘civil rights have not been restored.’ Under Illinois law, civil rights are automatically restored upon the ‘completion of any sentence of imprisonment or upon discharge from probation, conditional discharge or periodic imprisonment.’ Thus, a person who has completed his or her sentence on a felony conviction is not disqualified from serving on a federal jury.”
The statement from the prosecutor’s office also said: “In general . . . federal law appropriately provides great respect for a jury’s verdict and holds that it should not be lightly disturbed.”
The jury convicted Cellini on Nov. 1 of conspiring to extort a Hollywood producer for a $1.5 million campaign donation to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.