As the jury in the Leona Helmsley tax evasion trial began its fourth day of deliberations today, a flap arose over a report that one of the hotel queen's bodyguards was seen in an elevator with a juror.
The report in the New York Post, quoting from the trial transcript, said U.S. District Judge John Walker had warned Helmsley "to tell her people to stay out of the hotel"--not a Helmsley hotel--where the jury sleeps.
The judge, however, said today that he was assured the incident "was basically innocent."
According to the report, the incident occurred Friday night after the judge handed the case to the jury. The juror was accompanied by a U.S. marshal at the time.
The newspaper said that at a hearing Saturday, the judge said, "If the Helmsley security people think they are doing their client a favor by investigating where the jurors are, the rooms the jurors are staying in, or what floor the jurors are staying in a particular hotel, they are not."
This morning on entering the courtroom, Walker spotted the front page headlines in the newspaper that blared, "Angry Judge Warns Leona: Stay Away From Jury," and asked spectators to leave copies of the paper outside.
Marshals then moved through the courtroom confiscating all newspapers.
Reaction From Post
"I'm disappointed in the headline," the judge said.
Commented Jerry Nachman, editor of the Post, "We don't rule on what's relevant in a trial, so we don't think it is in the province of the judge to decide what's newsworthy.
"We don't conduct trials in secret in this country."