Tomorrow is the start of the jury selection process for the case of the U.S. v. Raniere Et Al.
In legal terms, this is called the “Voir Dire” phase of a trial. “Voir Dire” is Latin for “to speak the truth”.
The process begins with a randomly selected panel of potential jurors. In this case, the presiding judge, Nicholas G. Garaufis, has called for a panel of 500 potential jurors to be assembled.
Per the federal Jury Selection and Service Act, each U.S. District Court creates a list of prospective jurors for its district. These lists usually begin with the names of all the registered voters or actual voters in the district – and is then supplemented, as needed, through other sources of names.
Each district must have a minimum of 1,000 names on its final list of potential jurors (The EDNY’s list will obviously be much larger). These names are then loaded into a “jury wheel” – which must be refreshed at least once every four years.
In order to be eligible to serve as a juror, a person must be a U.S. citizen, over the age of 18, live within the court’s jurisdiction, and be eligible to vote. In addition, they must be physically able to sit through the entire trial, be able to hear and see well enough – and understand well enough – the evidence and testimony that are presented during the trial.
Each of the 500 people who are selected for the panel in the case of the U.S. v. Raniere Et Al will be asked to fill out the questionnaire that Judge Garaufis has approved for this trial (See below for more information about the questionnaire being used in this case).
As the questionnaires are filled out, copies will be made – and distributed to the judge and attorneys representing the defendants and the prosecution.
After the questionnaires have been reviewed, the prospective jurors will be called in – one at a time – to meet with the judge and the attorneys for both sides.
Judge Garaufis will likely ask each prospective juror a few questions to establish that they are competent – and physically able to perform as a juror.
He may also ask them some questions to determine whether they have any inherent biases that might affect their ability to be objective about the evidence and testimony that will be presented during the trial.
Although he is not required to do so by law, Judge Garaufis may also allow the defense attorneys and the prosecution attorneys to ask additional questions of each prospective juror.
After the questioning has been completed, the attorneys for either side may ask that a potential juror be excused “for cause”.
A “for cause” dismissal means that there is a legally valid reason why a potential juror cannot be part of the jury: e.g., an actual or potential bias against one of the defendants (“I hate cults – especially sex-slave cults”); a personal involvement in the case (“My niece was a member of NXIVM before she ran out of money”); etc.
There is no limit as to the number of “for cause” dismissals. But each such decision will be made solely by Judge Garaufis.
In addition to the “for cause” dismissals, each side will have a certain number of “peremptory challenges” that it can use to dismiss an otherwise qualified juror as long as the dismissal is not based on a protected class such as age, gender, race, etc.
In a typical federal felony case, the defense will be given 10 “peremptory challenges” – and the prosecution will be given 6. Given that there are multiple defendants involved in this case – and given that the case involves some fairly complex charges – it is quite possible that Judge Garaufis will grant more to each side.
The selection process will continue until 12 qualified jurors have been selected for the trial.
After that, several “alternate jurors” will be selected via the same process (There will be at least 2 such “alternate jurors” chosen for this case – and, given the expected length of the trial, maybe as many as 4).
The “alternate jurors” will be present throughout the trial – and will hear and see exactly what the 12-member jury panel hears and sees. That’s why they will be ready to substitute in for any juror who is unable to serve until the trial has been completed.
So, that’s how the jury is going to be selected for the upcoming trial in the case of the U.S. v. Raniere Et Al.
The question now is what sort of potential jurors the defendants’ attorneys will keep off the jury via their “peremptory challenges”?
Probably anyone who is grossly overweight.
Very likely anyone who seems too religious.
Possibly anyone over 60.
Maybe anyone who is a member of a minority class (They’ll have to be careful to disguise this type of exclusion).
How about Mexicans?
And what about the prosecution? What sort of potential jurors will they keep off the jury via their “peremptory challenges”?
Probably anyone who is anorexic.
Democratic Socialists like ACO?
Possibly people under the age of 30.
How about people with visible body piercings and tats?
How about Mexicans?
As last week came to a close, a battle ensued as to who would be told the names of the selected jurors.
At first, Judge Garaufis ruled that “The names of prospective and empaneled jurors will be completely anonymous and will not be released to the parties or to the public.” He then ordered that Questions 16(a), 17(a) 21(a), 29(c), 30(b), and 30(c) in the jury questionnaire be modified “because those questions ask potential jurors to provide information that might disclose their identities”.
The attorneys representing Keith Raniere and Clare Bronfman immediately filed a written objection to the judge’s ruling – and claimed that “an anonymous jury will burden the defendant’s presumption of innocence”.
They also argued that not allowing the parties to know the names of the jurors would disrupt their ability “to investigate jurors for bias”.
Judge Garaufis then reversed his earlier ruling – and ordered that “the names of prospective and empaneled jurors will be withheld from the public until after the trial, but will be made available to the parties, their attorneys, and their attorneys’ staffs and consultants only, and shall not be divulged to any third party until further order of the court. Jurors must be identified only by juror number in open court”.
Judge Garaufis also ordered that Questions 16(a), 17(a), 21(a), 29(c), 30(b), and 30(c) be restored to their original form in the jury questionnaire in their earlier form.
What will result from the parties and their attorneys knowing the names of the jurors is uncertain.
Looked at from a benign standpoint, it will simply allow them to obtain more information about each of the jurors – and be able to make more informed decisions in terms of how to prepare and present their case.
From a sinister standpoint, it will allow them to target jurors for harassment, intimidation and/or bribery.
Although those tactics have always been part of NXIVM’s litigation strategy, it’s unlikely that they’ll try to do that sort of stuff under the watchful eye of Judge Garaufis.
On the other hand, desperate people often do desperate things.
And right about now, Keith and Clare are probably feeling pretty desperate.
Even as the jury selection process is getting underway tomorrow, there will also be a 10:15 AM Status Conference before Magistrate Judge Scanlon.
The purpose of the Status Conference will be for Mark Sullivan, the attorney for NXIVM, to answer several questions about the corporation:
– Is it still a continuing corporation?
– Is it still asserting attorney-client privilege with respect to some of the materials that were seized from Nancy Salzman’s former residence?
– Is it still asserting any claims with respect to 8 Hale Drive?
What makes this all intriguing is that although a corporation does have attorney-client privilege rights, it is only the corporation’s officers and directors that can assert those rights.
As far as we know, Nancy Salzman was – and is – the sole owner of NXIVM Corporation.
Also as far as we know, Nancy Salzman was – and is – also the President, Chief Executive Officer, and Chair of the Board of Directors of NXIVM Corporation.
So, with Nancy having already pleaded guilty in this case, is she going to assert any attorney-client privilege rights on behalf of NXIVM Corporation?
Probably not if she’s looking to minimize the amount of time she’ll spend in federal prison.
Maybe this is when Keith and Clare will try to utilize one of the duplicate NXIVM Corporation entities they set up over the years to disguise their various illegal activities.
At one point, they had entities with that exact same set up in Delaware, Nevada, New York State, and Puerto Rico.
Maybe now, there are even more…
Stay tuned – and be sure to have plenty of popcorn on hand.
This is going to be a very busy week.