Notes could explain juror's dismissal in congressman's case

AP News
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Posted: Dec 16, 2016 4:43 PM

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A federal judge on Friday said he dismissed a holdout juror before the panel convicted a Pennsylvania congressman of racketeering because the juror screamed at others and pledged to cause a hung jury "no matter what."

The unidentified juror told the news website PhillyVoice that he was the lone not-guilty vote in former U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah's case. The Philadelphia Democrat was sentenced this week to 10 years in prison in a five-person corruption case.

U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III approved a news media company's request Friday to unseal transcripts surrounding the dismissal of the juror, a Lancaster County salesman. The man had told Bartle's clerk just hours into the deliberations "that he was going to hang this jury no matter what," the judge wrote.

"There's no way in the world he could have reviewed and considered all of the evidence ... and my instructions on the law," Bartle wrote. "He has preconceived notions about the case. He has violated his oath as a juror."

Fattah's lawyers, in response, said Juror 12's disqualification would remain an issue in their appeal. They otherwise declined to comment.

Fattah, 60, was convicted in June of using more than $600,000 in government grants and nonprofit funds on personal and campaign expenses.

As he dismissed the juror, Bartle reminded the other panelists to remain open to discussing the evidence without feeling pressured to change their opinions. Days later, the jury convicted Fattah on all 22 counts and all four co-defendants on at least some counts.

The tossed juror later told the freelance legal reporter that he was the lone holdout on more than eight votes on the charges before he refused to take part in subsequent votes, saying he was not going to change his mind.

A juror's refusal to deliberate, bias toward one side or intent to nullify or ignore the law are all grounds for dismissal, courts have found.

Another Philadelphia political corruption case led the U.S. appeals court in Philadelphia to outline the law on the issue. The court found a judge had acted reasonably in dismissing a juror in former city treasurer Corey Kemp's trial after jurors said she was uncooperative and biased against the prosecution. Shown some of their evidence, the woman said "the government lies" and "show it to someone who cares," the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court said in its 2007 opinion.

"The judge has to (determine) ... when it morphs from being a person with a point of view to being an obstructionist," said Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer William J. Brennan, who is not involved in the Fattah case.

Philadelphia Media Network, the parent company of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com, had petitioned for the Fattah documents to be unsealed.

Fattah served 11 terms in Congress and was on the powerful House Appropriations Committee. His finances unraveled amid a failed 2007 bid for Philadelphia mayor. The jury found he took an illegal $1 million loan from a friend and used federal grants and charity money to pay some of it back. Fattah resigned after the conviction and is due to report to prison next month. His son is serving a five-year term in a related bank fraud case.