The William Jefferson Chronicles

Jefferson wants jurors quizzed on opinions of politicians
by Bruce Alpert, The Times-Picayune
Tuesday March 31, 2009, 5:16 PM

WASHINGTON -- Attorneys for former Rep. William Jefferson, D-New Orleans want the judge in his upcoming corruption trial to ask prospective jurors whether they have positive or negative views of politicians in general and specifically politicians from Louisiana.

In a brief filed with U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III, Jefferson's lawyers suggested questions with multiple-choice answers to measure potential bias from members of the jury pool that will be assembled for his May 26 public corruption trial in Alexandria, Va.

In two proposed questions about politicians -- one general and the other specifying Louisiana politicians -- jurors would be asked to check the option that best reflect their views: 1: extremely positive. 2: positive. 3: neutral/no opinion. 4: negative. 5: extremely negative.

"If they restrict the jury to those who have positive views of Louisiana politicians, they may never impanel one with enough members," said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. "That's not fair; there are lots of honest politicians in the Bayou State, but the dishonest ones get most of the publicity."

In recent months, after ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was accused of trying to sell the Senate seat previously held by President Barack Obama, there was something of a competition about whether Illinois is more corrupt than Louisiana. The Chicago Tribune, reviewing Department of Justice corruption rates, eventually went with Louisiana, reporting that Department of Justice data shows that Louisiana ranked third among the 50 states in terms of corruption convictions per 100,000 population, while Illinois ranked 19th.

Jefferson's lawyers also proposed questions to assess prospective juror views on African-American politicians, members of Congress and Nigerians and Nigerian business practices.

In a 16-count indictment, Jefferson is accused of seeking and in some cases receiving payments to family owned businesses in return for his help securing contracts in Nigeria and other Western African nations for businesses, including a Kentucky telecommunications firm.

Included in former congressman's proposed list of questions are several that seem intended to assess how prospective jurors might respond to the likely defense strategy that what Jefferson stands accused of isn't bribery because the actions aren't part of his official legislative duties.

One proposed question asks whether jurors agree or disagree that a "U.S. congressman should be allowed to receive income from outside business activities in addition to his government salary." Another asks if a congressman "while in office should be allowed to use contacts he has developed through his congressional activities to pursue private business opportunities."

Bruce Alpert can be reached at or 202.383.7861.

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