“I’m dying here,” whined Juror #191 at the Ed Schultz trial happening this week in the D.C. federal courtroom of Judge Beryl Howell, an Obama appointee.
The older woman with her white hair tied up in a ponytail got out of Schultz’s trial alive.
Schultz’s show may not, according to recent reports that say his show may get the ax.
Welcome to Day 1 of the Ed Schultz trial in which NBC producer and sound engineer Michael Queen is suing the MSNBC host for breach of contract. Queen says they were partners and that he deserves a cut of the pie for the creation of “The Ed Show.” Schultz, meanwhile, insists they were never partners.
First things first. Lawyers arrived bright and early at 9 a.m. to pick the jury.
The list of 25 potential jurors was whittled down to 14 and then 8.
Judge Howell did the questioning herself.
The reasons why some D.C. residents were excused were truly amazing — they ranged from being a Christian to just being laid off from work to being a Jehovah’s witness and simply not finding Schultz to be a credible human being.
One woman told the judge that if she can’t use the restroom every hour and a half she will have trouble focusing. She also said some of her meds make her drowsy.
“Will you need to take these medications in the next week?” Howell asked.
“Only when I need to and I try not to,” the woman replied, adding, “One pill–yes.”
The judge relieved her (pun intended) of worry about her bowels. If the woman needs a break, all she has to do is raise her hand and ask.
The aforementioned “dying” woman explained that she hadn’t been to work in two weeks, that she was the lead on a $150 million procurement to fight HIV. Of all the jurors, she was perhaps the most determined to get herself excused.
Asked if she’d seen “The Ed Show” within the last month, the older woman in pink pants, a flowered shirt and flip flops said probably not for more than 10 minutes. “Not a television watcher,” she said. “I don’t have a high regard for people in the entertainment business. I wish I could say it wouldn’t be a problem. It would be. Impartiality is not my strength.”
Would her job be a distraction for her? “I’m dying here,” she replied.
The judge put her out of her misery: “You’re excused.”
Juror #545 is a personal favorite.
He said his religious beliefs as a Baptist made it impossible for him to participate in the case.
“I’m a Christian and my faith prevents me from passing judgment on other people,” said the balding man with a note of earnestness.
The judge, somewhat incredulously, asked, “If you are asked to serve, what would you do?” Would he abstain? Would he be able to render a verdict?
“No,” he said. “That would be passing judgement.”
Not surprisingly, the judge said,”You’re excused.”
Juror #750, dressed in a long-sleeved blue T-shirt, dark shorts and beach shoes, had conflicts with five of the questions raised by the court.
After proudly announcing that his wife, father-in-law, uncle and first cousin are all lawyers, he asked, “Can I go?”
Crackles of laughter erupted in the courtroom.
But the judge, more seriously, replied, “If you could, I could never get a jury in this town.”
He may have created his own demise. He made the final cut – he’s on the jury.
The plaintiff may be in luck with this one. Juror #750 is a firm believer in handshakes as a way of sealing an agreement. After all, Queen and Schultz had no written agreement, unless you count some 1000 emails of alleged proof that they were partners. Juror #750 pointlessly protested that since he’s in the middle of formulating such partnerships, he may feel conflicted.
“I think the subject matter would affect me,” he told the judge.
She was unmoved.
During the entire deliberation on which jurors would be seated, Schultz listened intently with earphones. The earphones allowed Schultz to hear everything the judge and potential jurors were saying, even in moments when lawyers chatted privately with the judge with the noise machine on.
Unlike the recent pre-trial hearing, where Schultz showed up looking fat and disheveled, he arrived to court on Monday groomed with a decently ironed black pinstriped suit, crisp white shirt and french blue tie. This time it was Queen’s turn to look wrinkled. The plaintiff wore a mismatched brown blazer, black pants, a mint green paisley tie and what looked to be black dress sneakers.
Perhaps the most striking change between the emergency hearing, the pre-trial hearing and today’s proceedings was Judge Howell’s dramatic personality change. Before now, she’s been in a virtual seething rage toward the lawyers — predominately the plaintiff’s attorney for one thing or another. Even when lawyers were seemingly keeping their tones mild, she’d lash out in disgust.
“I need to let you hang yourselves,” she sniffed at the pre-trial hearing as the lawyers squabbled about allowable props.
But today? She was like sweet, syrupy canned peaches. She smiled, she apologized repeatedly to the jurors for making them wait so long to be questioned. She instructed many of them to put their bags down so they’d be more comfortable. Who was this new woman? She even kept a lid on her simmering contempt for the lawyers, and only on a few occasions let her anger seep out. But even then, not to the three headed monstrous degree she did in other hearings.
She was, however, controlling and reactive about the words she heard coming out of potential jurors’ mouths.
When Juror #127 said “That would be my hope,” referring to whether he could be impartial, she replied with a sliver of attitude, “Well, we need more than hope.” Ultimately he pleaded with the judge to let him go. “I was laid off last Friday,” he said, looking rather desperate. “I am scrambling to find a new job. I’m just being very honest with you – it’s very challenging for me right now.”
After discussing with the lawyers, she said, “You are going to be excused.”
Certain jurors were clearly good for one side but not the other.
For instance, the twenty-something man in a checked blue chambray shirt who listens to Rush Limbaugh four to five times a week and has a friend who works for Fox in LA was definitely not desirable to Schultz’s side. Asked if his affinity for Limbaugh would affect his ability to be impartial and follow her rules, he replied, “I don’t know why. I don’t think so.”
The judges voice rose, “You don’t think so?”
“Yeah, I’m sure,” he replied.
He was ultimately dismissed.
Then there was Juror #949. Between 1997 and 2011 he was the communications director for a Capitol Hill Budget Committee. He had a direct working relationship with Ed Schultz’s show to get his members on the air. He has a “very positive” feeling toward Schultz because of the experience.
But would it affect his ability to be impartial?
“Maybe,” he replied.
More importantly, he has family coming into town from out of the country and the jury office said he could take those days off.
Diiiiiinnggg. Wrong answer. “You received incorrect information from the jury office,” the judge told him flatly.
Still, she asked, “Would you be distracted by family obligations?”
Juror #949: “No, not really.”
Howell: “Could you comply with your oath as a juror?”
Juror #949: “Perhaps. Yes, I think so. I’m confident.”
Howell: “How can you be so confident if you have such a strongly held view?”
Juror #949: “I don’t know.”
He, too, was dismissed.
Among the more interesting jurors was Juror #90. He had issues with eight of the judge’s questions. One by one she barreled through them.
Yes, he’s seen Ed on television. No, he’s not a regular watcher. Has he read about the case in the press? Yes, but he wasn’t affected by the story he read. He frequently watches FNC’s Bill O’Reilly. His workplaces have included the Dept. of Energy, the Dept. of Homeland Security, and the Dept. of Veterans Affairs. He also recently entered into an agreement with a trainer to raise horses – in fact, he’s a jockey and will be riding this Sunday in Potomac, Md.
“Really? Good luck!” the judge said.
The jockey was ultimately dismissed.
Like the devout Baptist, Juror #544, the retired Jehovah’s witness, caused a stir.
“How are you this morning?” the judge asked warmly, really turning on the charm. “Thank you for your patience. I know it’s been a long morning.”
Howell wanted to know how this man spends his time.
He said he goes door to door preaching his religion.
Later he returned for a second round of questioning.
As you might’ve guessed, he was thrown out of the jury pool.
There was also a random touching moment. Take Juror #224, a skinny woman with a short helmut of gray hair. Has she watched “The Ed Show?”
“Yes, my Dad and I used to watch his TV program together all the time,” she said. “A couple times a week at least.”
Does she have a positive view of Schultz?
“I don’t know,” she replied. “I would try to be fair. Yes, I’d be OK.”
But would Schultz have an advantage?
But let the record show that this woman isn’t totally in the tank for Ed.
“I’m not a 100 percent fan,” she said. “I don’t always agree with everything he says. My Dad doesn’t either.”
During the lunch break, a security guard at the entrance of the building remembered me from last time. He was also apparently vividly aware of my coworker Evan Gahr, who, as some may remember, shouted questions to Schultz and his lawyer at the pre-trial hearing. The incident caused such a ruckus that it prompted a bench meeting with the noise machine.
“That guy that you was with, try to keep him comfortable,” he said, smiling with a large hint of seriousness. (I politely informed him that that was not my job.)
That same guard separately warned Gahr, “Careful, the judge knows you.”
Some of the funniest moments of the day came when Gahr tried to engage Schultz in mindless small talk.
“Hey Ed,” Gahr said on his way through the court anteroom. Schultz wouldn’t even look in his direction. And later, after lunch, in the hallway outside the courtroom, he asked, “Did you have a good lunch Ed?” (Again, Schultz’s head wouldn’t move a muscle.)
Schultz’s pretty, petite blonde wife, Wendy, was on the scene. She’s scheduled to testify. At one point after a break, he returned to the courtroom and could be seen caressing her shoulder.
“Do you have any mints?” he asked her.
Just before 3 p.m. the cable news host could be seen popping a handful of candy into his mouth.
The defense would soon call its first witness. Soon, Schultz would take the stand. Before the day is done, his face and his neck will be on fire.