Picking jurors in Phila. clergy abuse case likely to be a long slog

Today lawyers and a judge continue to plod through jury selection in the Philadelphia Archdiocese abuse case. It could take weeks to pick the 12 jurors and 10 alternates to hear the case of two former parish priests charged with abuse, plus a former, ordained administrator charged with endangering children.

Jury selection in a high-profile, high-stakes case like this clergy abuse trial is “very, very, very hard,” said Edward Ohlbaum, a professor of law at Temple University’s School of Law. He said it will be a real challenge to find jurors who are unaware of the grand jury investigation into abuse by Catholic clergy that led to these charges, or who don’t have strong feelings about the general topic of abuse by clergy.”The law doesn’t require that somebody sit on the jury without opinions,” Ohlbaum said. “But the law does say that if somebody has an opinion that favors one side or the other, that the opinion can not be fixed. We want people to be able to set aside their prejudices — because we all have them. And that’s really a hard job to be able to set that aside.”Anne Bowen Poulin is a law professor at Villanova University School of Law. She said there are a couple of ways to eliminate potential jurors from the pool.”Voir dire is the opportunity that lawyers have to get information about the prospective jurors,” Poulin said, referring to formal name for the process of interviewing the jury pool. “The court brings in a pool of prospective jurors and then generally the lawyers are going to be allowed to ask them questions.”Poulin said each side has two ways to eliminate jurors it doesn’t want to be seated. “When a party moves to challenge a juror for cause, they have to try to convince a judge that that juror is biased,” she said. “So they’re going to be looking at something that juror has revealed in voire dire or perhaps in a juror questionnaire.”Poulin said there’s no limit on the number of challenges for causeand there’s another way jurors can get knocked out,   “It’s called a pre-emptory challenge. A party doesn’t have to justify its reasons for striking. If a party moves to strike a juror for cause and the judge does not strike that juror, then it’s quite likely that that party is going to use one of its pre-emptory challenges.”Temple’s Edward Ohlbaum said in a multi-defendant case like this one each defendant is entitled to a portion of the total pre-emptory challenges.  

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