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'Voir dire' isn't English, either

The Baltimore Sun

Take the daily pay for a Baltimore Circuit Court judge, prosecutor, public defender, two cops, a government chemist, sheriff's deputy and court clerk. Multiply by two.

What do you get? The cost incurred this week when a two-day drug trial went down the tubes because one of the jurors spoke little English.

The prosecution and defense had done their things, two alternate jurors had been sent home, and the jury was a couple of hours into deliberations when it sent a note to Judge Emanuel Brown.

One of the jurors spoke Chinese, and the trial was all Greek to her. A mistrial was declared.

"They're supposed to catch this in a bunch of ways before" a trial gets that far, said prosecutor David Kessler.

Starting with the questionnaire sent to potential jurors, which asks if they speak English.

"She indicated" - afterward - "that her husband had filled it out for her," Kessler said.

During jury selection, potential jurors are asked a bunch of questions as a group and instructed to stand up if their answer is "yes." It's standard stuff that will get you ejected from a jury, like, "Have you ever been the victim of a crime?"

She stayed seated and made the cut.

"The voir dire process that selects jurors is essentially a self-reporting system," said Assistant Public Defender Anne Stewart-Hill, who represented Raymond McGowen, accused of heroin possession and distribution in the case. "Prospective jurors swear to answer the questions posed to them truthfully. ... If a prospective juror doesn't understand the oath or questions to begin with, the voir dire process may fail to anticipate any problems. The solution may lie with the initial juror qualification process; I understand that that is being looked into in relation to this case."

The woman, who has been in the United States for 27 years and works in a family business, was able to follow "rudimentary" instructions - where to sit and so on - Kessler said.

"She followed directions magnificently," Kessler said. "No one had any idea she didn't understand English."

But she was hopelessly lost once the trial got under way, Kessler said.

"We weren't using rudimentary questions when we were arguing back and forth," he said.

McGowen is expected to be retried, but not by Kessler, whose last day on the job is today. After 2 1/2 years as a prosecutor, he is going to work for the FAA in Kansas City, his wife's hometown.

Was this a tough way to go out?

"It's just a shame," he said. "My opening and closing [arguments], I put my heart into that."

Ballpark dollar figure for the snafu, based on average salaries, including jury per diems but not stuff like lights and air conditioning?

About $4,000.

Another way to be the green party

Just because Barack Obama has banned lobbyists from giving to his campaign and the DNC and Martin O'Malley has said he wouldn't deal with the felonious variety, doesn't mean they should feel totally left out of the election-year fun.

The Maryland Democratic Party just sent Bruce Bereano, of all people, an invite to hobnob with the governor, Comptroller Peter Franchot, Attorney General Doug Gansler and other state leaders at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

All for the low, low price of $1,000 to $50,000, depending on how many people he wants tagging along for breakfast with the bigwigs.

"In addition to the history-making convention sessions, the MDP will offer an extensive series of events hosted by prominent leaders in the Party that will offer you an excellent opportunity to get involved with" - read: lobby - "the Maryland Delegation during the convention."

The letter was signed by state party Chairman Michael Cryor and Executive Director Quincey Gamble.

Bereano, an Annapolis lobbyist, is a Democrat, despite his close ties to former Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich. Will he shell out for some up-close-and-personal time at the convention?

"I can't find my checkbook at the present time," said Bereano. He's still mad at the state party for a Web page created during the O'Malley-Ehrlich race, showing Ehrlich surrounded by ex-con associates. Click on Bereano's mug and you got a Law and Order-style voice-over on his decade-old mail fraud conviction.

"I'm not all warm and fuzzy toward the state Democratic Party," Bereano said.

Gamble said the party was working from an old mailing list. "Out list hasn't been purged," he said. "Tell Mr. Bereano, that's OK, he can ignore the letter."

As far as taking any lobbyists' money, Gamble said, "Our party is funded by a number of progressive causes, unions, working families." In any case, he said, Obama's ban does not apply to state parties.

"State parties will continue to raise money in the ways that we have in the past," he said.

Ah, change. The kind that goes ca-ching!

Connect the dots

Poolside at Meadowbrook: Matt Lauer. The Today show host was there Wednesday interviewing swimmer Katie Hoff for a forthcoming show. "There was a lineup of about eight or 10 young teen girls in lobby, and he stopped and exchanged words with them and asked if they were his welcoming committee," said Meadowbrook general manager John Cadigan. ... Carl J. Galler, aka Mr. July in a charity calendar featuring nude Jewish bikers, writes to say he is no workout newbie, as Mr. January had suggested in my column the other day. "I've been working out and tanning for about two years," he says. He does not, however, dispute the use of cooking spray in his photo shoot. "[T]he PAM part, well ... that's true!"

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