The William Jefferson Chronicles

Mose Jefferson jury is seated
by Laura Maggi, The Times-Picayune
Monday August 10, 2009, 9:02 PM

Twelve jurors and two alternates were picked Monday in the federal bribery trial of New Orleans political consultant Mose Jefferson after defense attorneys unsuccessfully pressed arguments that it is difficult for Jefferson to obtain fair treatment.

Defense attorney Michael Fawer began the day Monday arguing to U.S. District Court Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon that an avalanche of publicity following the conviction of Jefferson's younger brother, former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, on corruption charges in a separate Virginia trial could taint jurors.

The media attention makes it impossible for Mose Jefferson to get a fair hearing if his trial starts this week in New Orleans, Fawer said.

Lemmon denied the request, as she did on Friday in response to a written motion to delay the trial or move it outside southeast Louisiana.

To determine how much jurors have paid attention to media coverage of the William Jefferson trial -- or to coverage of Mose Jefferson's bribery case -- the judge conducted individual and small-group interviews with prospective jurors in her chambers.

"We want to be sure that both the government and the defendant get a fair trial, " Lemmon told the prospective jurors.

By the day's end, Lemmon and attorneys on both sides had interviewed 42 potential jurors. They agreed on a panel of 12 jurors, evenly split between men and women, and two alternates, both women.

After the jury was selected, Fawer said answers that jurors gave eased his concerns that the publicity would influence their views toward Mose Jefferson's case.

The trial is set to begin today Tuesday at 10 a.m.

Mose Jefferson is accused of paying $140,000 to former Orleans Parish School Board President Ellenese Brooks-Simms so that she would help persuade the school system to buy an algebra curriculum he was selling. The school system paid $14 million over two years to equip 84 classrooms with the computer program. Jefferson received a commission of more than $900,000 off the sales from the company that developed the program.

Jefferson also is charged with money laundering and obstruction of justice in the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Pickens and Fawer gave the jury a taste of their perspectives while questioning prospective jurors about their views.

Pickens repeatedly questioned whether jurors would hold the person who makes a "payoff" as responsible as the "corrupt public official" who takes the money.

Fawer, for his part, questioned whether jurors understood that in order for a bribe to take place, the public official had to provide something of value in exchange for the money.

Fawer also questioned jurors as to whether they would scrutinize the testimony of people who pleaded guilty and agreed to testify for the prosecution, presumably in exchange for lighter sentences. Such is the case with several key witnesses, including Brooks-Simms and her daughter, Stacy Simms.

While Mose Jefferson doesn't deny giving money to Brooks-Simms, Fawer has said the money wasn't a bribe and his client didn't receive any benefit. Without naming Brooks-Simms, Fawer told potential jurors that the recipient of money from the defendant was a person he had been good friends with for more than 20 years. Fawer also has repeatedly emphasized that the School Board unanimously voted to approve the contracts for the algebra program.

Brooks-Simms, who sources have said wore a wire during some conversations with Jefferson, won't be the only close associate of the Jefferson family to testify, according to prosecutors, who listed the names of their potential witnesses.

One witness is Burnell Moliere, a Norco businessman and former Jefferson ally who last year pleaded guilty to helping Brooks-Simms cash one of the checks paid to her from a Mose Jefferson company. Brenda Foster, a sister of Mose Jefferson who has also pleaded guilty in another case, also could testify.

The defense and prosecution indicated they plan to call John R. Lee, the owner of the company that created the I CAN Learn math computer program.

Witnesses for the defense are probably better-known names to New Orleanians, including former school district Superintendent Tony Amato and a handful of former School Board members, including Elliot Willard, Jimmy Fahrenholtz and Una Anderson.

The defense also could call former U.S. Rep. Bob Livingston, who while serving in Congress secured federal grants to buy the I CAN Learn program for Jefferson Parish schools. The company that made the program, JRL Enterprises, became one of Livingston's clients when he open a lobbying practice after leaving Congress in 1999.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Laura Maggi can be reached at or at 504.826.3316.

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