Juror dismissed from Libby trial

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON -- A juror was dismissed yesterday from the trial of former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, but the judge allowed the panel to continue deliberations with 11 members.

U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton discharged the juror after she acknowledged coming in contact with information about the perjury and obstruction case over the weekend when court was not in session.

Walton did not detail the nature or extent of the contacts, which he said were brought to his attention by the jury's foreperson. He expressed concern to the lawyers that others on the panel might also have been tainted, but after interviewing each, he concluded that the remaining jurors -- seven women and four men -- could continue to serve.

"She did have contact with information related to this case," Walton said in court. "It wasn't intentional on her part. It was a misunderstanding of what I had been telling her throughout the trial."

The dismissed juror worked as a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York before moving to Washington.

The incident was one of the few signs of life from the jury since it began deliberations Wednesday. Walton called the other jurors into court yesterday and underscored that they should avoid reading or hearing anything about the case during the trial.

The judge said he would allow the smaller panel to continue to deliberate. The approach is permitted under federal court rules, although the government urged him yesterday to draw on one of two alternate jurors still available and proceed with a full 12-member jury.

Special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald said the smaller panel puts the trial on "dangerous territory" if another juror becomes ill or is dismissed.

But Walton expressed concern that adding a new juror would require the panel to restart deliberations.

"I just don't think it would be appropriate to throw away those 2 1/2 days of deliberations," he said. "I don't have anything to suggest that this jury is anything but conscientious and can continue."

Defense lawyer Theodore V. Wells Jr. supported that move and said that forcing the jury to begin its deliberations anew would be "prejudicial to Mr. Libby."

"It's not like by going to 11 we're on the cliff of some mistrial," Wells told the judge.

One observer said the lawyers' opposing views on the size of the jury suggested an effort by both to gain a tactical advantage. "At the very least, it probably means that Fitz liked the alternates and Wells did not," said Guy Singer, a Washington lawyer and former Justice Department prosecutor.

The jury concluded its deliberations yesterday without reaching a verdict. Deliberations were set to resume this morning.

Libby, 56, who was formerly Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, is charged with covering up his participation in the events leading to the disclosure of the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame in the summer of 2003. Plame is married to former envoy Joseph C. Wilson IV, who accused the Bush administration of twisting the prewar intelligence in Iraq in an op-ed article in The New York Times a few days before Plame's identity was disclosed by columnist Robert Novak.

Richard B. Schmitt writes for the Los Angeles Times. Wire services contributed to this article.

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