Kootenai prosecutor calls tampering suspicions ‘ridiculous’
A man whom Kootenai County prosecutors unsuccessfully tried to remove from a jury last month found himself the target of a drug inquiry that some believe was intended to get him kicked off the panel or have a mistrial declared.
Kootenai County prosecutors insist they did nothing wrong in the July 15 trial of a protection-order violation between a husband and wife.
But several North Idaho lawyers say they’re outraged by what they consider blatant jury tampering and want the state attorney general to investigate.
“The Kootenai County prosecutors just think they’re above the law and can do whatever they want,” defense attorney Christopher Schwartz said. “I think it’s pretty safe to say that the Kootenai County prosecutor’s office has a bad reputation, but I’ve never heard of them doing anything like this.”
Magistrate Judge Eugene Marano declared a mistrial, but not out of suspicion that the prosecutor targeted a juror whom she’d been unable to remove earlier. He feared that continued questions about an order he wrote would require him to testify in his own courtroom.
Deputy Prosecutor Terri Laird said she has retained an attorney to look into a defamation suit against Schwartz, who accused her of jury tampering – a felony – in court, according to transcripts.
“I’m not going to talk about this person’s allegations,” said Laird, who joined the prosecutor’s office 10 months ago from El Paso, Texas. “I’m just going to tell you that allegations that I did something wrong are false.”
The state’s case against David Wayne Long began routinely. But midway through the one-day trial, 19-year-old juror Seth Sanders was met by his probation officer during a break and given a drug test, which he passed. The timing of the test was curious; Laird had spent about 10 minutes trying to get Sanders removed from the jury for cause after using up her jury strikes, but Marano declined.
“If I had a third party contact a juror for an ancillary purpose while a jury was sitting, there certainly would be issues with it,” Schwartz told Marano when asking for a mistrial, according to the court tape. “I think this juror obviously is going to be upset now that his juror service has caused him to get in trouble with his probation officer.” Immediately after Schwartz made the request, Laird asked for a mistrial, saying Sanders appeared to be on drugs.
According to a tape of the proceedings obtained by The Spokesman-Review, Marano said Sanders appeared attentive and, given the negative drug test, there was no reason to think he was impaired.
Because Sanders told Marano that his probation officer didn’t tell him why he was asked to give a urine sample, the judge said Schwartz’s argument that Sanders could hold his testing against the defendant didn’t warrant a mistrial.
Either way, the incident has the legal community talking.
Moscow defense attorney Tim Gresback said the recent history of the prosecutor’s office supports the current allegations.
“If we didn’t have this culture in this office, we’d say, ‘Hey, a rookie prosecutor went a little overboard here,’ ” Gresback said. “But many in the legal community feel that for several years this prosecutor’s office has been plagued by scandal and overzealous lawyering.
“We have an institutional lack of mentoring here.”
Along with a string of inappropriate interoffice e-mails and sexual harassment allegations, the county prosecutor’s office was slammed last year in an Idaho Court of Appeals opinion overruling an aggravated assault conviction, calling that case “yet another in a long line or pattern of repetitious misconduct.”
Laird said she’s heard rumors of an attorney general investigation into the matter but hasn’t had any contact with the office. Kootenai County Prosecutor Bill Douglas called the allegations “absolutely ridiculous” and said he’s encouraging Laird to take legal action.
Douglas said he doesn’t know who in his office called Sanders’ probation officer, but Marano knew Sanders was being drug tested.
“If there was something inappropriate, then certainly the court would have picked that up,” he said.
Marano said he couldn’t comment because the protection case will be tried in his courtroom again.
A new trial date has not been set. But Sanders, a 2007 Lake City High School graduate, is off the hook. Marano cleared him of his jury duties the day after declaring the mistrial.
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