Concerns about jurors’s impartiality in Smith case slow down jury selection

Judge Ramona Manglona is another day closer to having a jury that will decide the fate of Mark Smith, as federal prosecutors seek to send him to jail on allegations that he benefited from a corrupt scheme using federal funds.  Mr. Smith, the judge reminded the courtroom, has no obligation to prove his innocence. It is his accusers, the prosecutors, who bear the burden of proving he is guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

It is uncertain whether some of the jurors can do their duties and base their decision only on the evidence presented.  For instance, one of the potential jurors made a statement after hearing the charges against Mr. Smith, that she cannot understand how he could not have been aware of what can be done or who can receive those federal dollars.

Before proceeding any further, Judge Manglona made it a point to educate the jurors about how they are expected to approach deliberation on the trial.  The judge asked if any of them had seen or read about the trial.  Based on the discussion that went back and forth between them and the judge, the presence of this trial in the public realm has raised concerns.  At one point, Mark Smith’s attorney, Mike Phillips, made a standing objection following responses from a couple of the jurors.  His objections were overruled by the judge.

“In our system of government, Mr. Smith is presumed innocent unless and until Ms. David can show you evidence that proves beyond a reasonable doubt that he is guilty of the crimes he is accused of committing,” Ms. Manglona told prospective jurors as she referred to federal prosecutor Marivic David.

Jury selection began Thursday with 68 potential jurors in the morning and 44 by the end of the day.  Most of the time was spent at sidebar discussions with attorneys, which are not part of the public record.  By the end of day two, only six more jurors were excused; 38 prospective jurors remained.  The jury will need to be pared down to 12 jurors and two alternate jurors.  The trial proceedings will resume on Monday at 8:30 a.m.

Mr. Smith is accused of engaging “in a scheme to make illegal section 8 housing payments” to himself and engaging “in the manipulation of the awarding of federal low-income housing tax credits,” according to supporting memoranda filed by the U.S. Attorney in federal court. “The direct involvement of GHURA’s former counsel, Mark Smith, who had conflicts of interest because he owned properties that directly benefited from the actions of GHURA. He subsequently attempted to cover his ownership… through a sham transfer to a relative. The relatives and employees of Mark Smith may have participated in an active cover up,” another statement attributed to the U.S. Attorney states.

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