Judge Denies Pleas for Mistrial in Tyco Case
The judge in the corruption trial of two former Tyco International Ltd. executives rebuffed defense pleas for a mistrial Monday, ruling that the defendants’ right to a fair proceeding wasn’t marred by the fact that two newspapers had identified one of the jurors.
The jury deliberated for an eighth day after Judge Michael Obus said the newspapers’ naming of Ruth Jordan, a 79-year-old retired teacher, had not compromised her ability to decide the fate of L. Dennis Kozlowski and Mark Swartz.
The Wall Street Journal’s online edition ran her name Friday afternoon. The New York Post on Saturday published an artist’s rendering of her on its front page under the headline “Ms. Trial.”
With her jaw visibly clenched, Jordan looked out at the gallery of reporters when she entered the courtroom Monday morning.
Jordan, who is widely believed to be holding out for an acquittal of Kozlowski and Swartz, stirred a media firestorm Friday after she appeared to some courtroom observers to flash an “OK” hand signal to Kozlowski and Swartz in a show of support for them.
Jordan had drawn notice a day earlier when a series of jury notes indicated that she was clashing with others on the panel, who seemed to favor convicting the two men of at least some of the 32 counts against them.
Obus said he spoke with Jordan in his chambers Monday morning and was told by her that she could continue. “This is a very independent woman,” he said.
His ruling marked another charged day in the trial of the erstwhile Tyco executives, who are accused of looting the company and its shareholders of $600 million through unauthorized payments and the pumping up of Tyco stock.
The trial teetered on the verge of collapse Friday. A note to the judge late Thursday described the atmosphere in the jury room as “poisonous,” and another Friday declared the deliberations “irreparably compromised.”
But the jurors agreed to try again Monday after Obus lectured them about the importance of respecting one another, and the deliberations were without incident Monday.
The day began with Stephen Kaufman, Kozlowski’s attorney, beseeching Obus to declare a mistrial. He argued that the media coverage had robbed Jordan of the anonymity jurors need to make dispassionate decisions and had put pressure on her to vote to convict his client.
“The animosity toward this juror, Ruth Jordan, has to be intensified to an unimaginable degree,” Kaufman said.
Kaufman argued that Jordan had been singled out by the Post, which dubbed her the “holdout granny,” and that it was impossible for her to not have seen the paper because it was hawked at street corners throughout the city.
It is highly unusual for the media to identify a juror in the middle of a trial.
In explaining the decision to disclose her identity, Col Allan, the Post’s editor in chief, said in a statement Monday that “by her extraordinary behavior -- signaling her thoughts to the defendant -- she created public interest in her identity.”
Outside experts differed on the possible effect of the identification of Jordan. Abraham Abramovsky, a criminal law professor at Fordham University’s law school, said Obus should have declared a mistrial. A conviction on any charge probably would be overturned by an appellate court, he said.
“What you have here is one juror in particular being singled out as the ‘holdout granny,’ and if that’s not pressure on her to switch her position then there is no such thing as pressuring a juror,” Abramovsky said.
But David H. Donaldson Jr., a 1st Amendment lawyer in Austin, Texas, said appellate courts give judges great leeway to determine what is prejudicial for a jury. He argued that the jurors already knew the case had generated intense public interest and that Jordan sees the swarms of reporters each day in court.
“You know you’re under scrutiny anyway,” Donaldson said. “You already know people are going to be interested in how you come out.”
Associated Press was used in compiling this report.