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Laura Vozzella: The prolific Juror No. 11 finally gets to speak out

Crime, Law and JusticeTrials and ArbitrationJustice SystemPoliticsRegional AuthorityCafe HonHampden

Elaine Pollack's mom didn't know it, but she entertained a special guest for Thanksgiving dinner: Juror No. 11.

Pollack might have been the most prolific note-writer on Sheila Dixon's jury, letting Judge Dennis Sweeney know things ranging from her desire for transcripts - "to clarify facts!" - to her accidental midtrial encounter with the mayor at Cafe Hon.

But outside the courtroom, Pollack kept mum.

She did tell her husband that she'd been picked to serve on the mayor's jury, but she said she never discussed the case itself. Her boss - Pollack supervises workers at a group home - knew she had jury duty and probably "put 2 and 2 together," Pollack said.

But no one else knew - including her mother, who had Pollack, her husband and their two preschoolers over for Thanksgiving.

"She didn't even know," Pollack told me after the jury was dismissed. "I think a lot of people are going to be surprised."

Pollack, 29, said she considered herself a Dixon supporter before the trial began.

"I had a fine opinion of the mayor," she said. "I voted for the mayor."

Pollack even had the chance to see Dixon in a positive light in the middle of the trial, when they both turned up at the unveiling of the new pink flamingo at Cafe Hon in Hampden.

"She was doing the chicken dance [at Cafe Hon], and I was watching and thinking, 'Is this OK?' " Pollack told me. (Pollack brought the encounter to the judge's attention the next day, and he was not troubled by it.)

What was it exactly that caused the popular mayor, a woman who had the trash trucks running on time and Hampden's pink flamingo restored to its rightful perch, to lose Pollack's jury vote?

Timely phone calls trumped a two-year-old flower arrangement.

Dixon was convicted of misappropriating gift cards that she'd asked developer Patrick Turner to donate to "the children of Baltimore" in 2005. Defense attorneys contended that Dixon mistakenly thought the cards, delivered in a blank envelope to her City Hall office, were a personal gift to her from another developer, Ron Lipscomb, her ex-boyfriend.

Prosecutors presented cell phone records that showed Turner called Dixon just minutes before and after he bought the cards. Within days, Dixon had spent 19 of the 20 Best Buy cards on herself. Turner testified that he could not recall what the phone calls were about, and the defense argued that the calls could have been about anything.

But prosecutors urged the jury to infer that Turner was keeping Dixon abreast of his gift-card purchases, so there would have been no mistaking who bought them. Pollack found it "impossible" to believe the cards did not come up in the conversations.

Defense attorneys presented evidence that Lipscomb had sent Dixon an elaborate floral arrangement nearly two years earlier, when they were having an affair. Because Lipscomb sent the flowers anonymously - he and Dixon were both married to other people at the time - that might have led her to assume the no-names-attached gift cards were from him, too, the defense argument went.

But the flower-arrangement defense didn't play well with the jury, Pollack said.

"Everyone thought that was a stretch," she said. If Pollack had had her way, Dixon would have been convicted on a second count. She said she was among a majority of jurors who wanted to find her guilty of misappropriating six Toys "R" Us gift cards purchased by the city Housing Department for poor children. Dixon gave one of the cards to an affluent aide; the other five turned up, unspent, at Dixon's home. The judge declared a mistrial on that count.

"Personally, I feel there's a lot of red flags," Pollack said. "I feel there was enough to prove misappropriation."

She declined to describe the thinking of the jury's holdouts.

Pollack nevertheless seemed satisfied with her jury service.

"I did a good job," she said.

She even avoided news reports of the intensely publicized trial. Her 2- and 3-year-olds saw to that.

"My TV is filled with Dora and Noggin," she said.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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Crime, Law and JusticeTrials and ArbitrationJustice SystemPoliticsRegional AuthorityCafe HonHampden
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