CHICAGO | A judge on Wednesday imposed a gag order on attorneys in the tax-evasion trial of a powerful Chicago Democrat after a defense lawyer claimed jury selection was "rigged" because no black men were in the 50-person pool from which jurors were selected.
Opening statements at Cook County Commissioner William Beavers' trial were set for Thursday after the jury was selected Wednesday. Each side will have 30 minutes to talk to jurors about allegations that the former policeman turned politician diverted around $225,000 from his campaign coffers for gambling and other personal use without reporting it.
The 12 jurors who will decide Beavers' fate include 10 whites, a Hispanic and one African-American — a woman. In all, the jury has seven women and five men.
Lawyers for Beavers, who is black, made race an issue Tuesday by complaining to U.S. District Judge James Zagel that there were no black men and only a few black women in the jury pool. They argued that a jury of Beavers' peers should include at least a few African-American males.
Outside court, defense attorney Sam Adam Sr. told reporters he'd never seen a jury pool without at least one African-American male in his more than 50 years practicing in federal court.
"This is outrageous," he told reporters. "It could not happen by accident. This is all rigged someplace."
Jury selection is done using a random system and is carried out by an independent office within the federal courthouse in Chicago.
Zagel on Wednesday did not refer directly to Adam's comments in announcing the ban on statements to the media during the trial. But he said comments in public by attorneys during a trial "frequently distracts the lawyers from the purpose of the case."
Zagel said he'll have zero tolerance for lawyers speaking to reporters. He said they can't even talk about scheduling issues.
"When I say statements, I mean no statement ... not until the trial is over," he said sternly.
Prosecutors themselves haven't spoken publicly about the case, while defense attorneys had been addressing TV cameras and reporters almost daily. Violating the gag order could mean jail time.
Beavers has pleaded not guilty to charges he diverted more than $225,000 from campaign coffers to support a gambling habit and for other personal use without reporting it on 2006 through 2008 tax returns.
His lawyers have argued that his is essentially a case of no harm, no foul — that he paid back the money at issue and amended his returns, albeit only after he learned he was under investigation in 2009.
Each count carries a maximum three-year prison sentence.
Sam Adam Sr.'s son, Sam Adam Jr., will deliver the opening for Beavers. The father-and-son duo are known for super-charged, often witty and sometimes inflammatory public commentary on their clients' behalf.
The younger Adam delivered the opening and closing at former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's first corruption trial, which ended in a hung jury. He also played a central role defending R. Kelly at the R&B singer's 2008 child pornography trial, which ended in acquittal.