Jury selection began Monday in the case of New York State Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and his son, Adam, whose trial on corruption charges is expected to start Tuesday at Manhattan federal court.
U.S. District Court Judge Kimba Wood peppered potential jurors with more than 50 questions quizzing their ability to be fair and not let any biases sway their deliberations—should they be among the 12 jurors and four alternates picked. Ironically, only a minority of the group was able to name their state legislative representatives when asked.
“I believe I know the Assembly person, however, there’s just been an election, so I could be wrong,” said a 65-year-old Manhattan woman, who was among eight of about 60 potential jurors to say they knew who represented them in either the state Senate or Assembly.
Skelos and son have pleaded not guilty to allegedly extorting bribes from three companies in the form of jobs for Adam in exchange for legislative help from the senator, who resigned his post as majority leader shortly after his arrest in May.
Opening statements are expected as early as Tuesday afternoon in the Skelos case, which comes as the trial against state Assemb. Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), the former Speaker of the Assembly, enters its third week in the same courthouse. Silver also pleaded not guilty to similar charges for allegedly abusing his power.
While the high-profile cases involving two former members of the so-called “three men in a room” that set the state’s legislative agenda—the third being Gov. Andrew Cuomo—is closely watched by political observers, some potential jurors suggested that the case may be too boring for them to focus.
A 68-year-old Westchester man who said he once served as a juror on a murder trial told Wood that he thought the case would be interesting, but he found it difficult to pay attention. When Wood promised that jurors in the Skelos case would have breaks to stretch as well as coffee and muffins, he said it’s “sounding better,” sparking laughter in the courtroom.
Later, when another potential juror who said they knew their state Senator was asked to identify their representative, the 46-year-old Manhattan man gave the name Schumer—as in U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY). Wood corrected the juror, noting that Schumer is a member of the U.S. Senate, not the state Senate, but said she understood the confusion.
“He does represent a state, after all,” Wood said.