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Judge Keeps Hispanic Juror On Panel In Mayor Eddie Perez Case

By JOSH KOVNER

April 14, 2010

HARTFORD

The judge in Mayor Eddie A. Perez' bribery and larceny trial has ruled that a Hispanic bail bondsman could not be dismissed from the jury solely because his job brings him in close proximity to criminal defendants.

Superior Court Judge Julia Dewey, ruling this morning on a prosecution motion, said the state did not establish during questioning of the man -- a father of two, a retail-store manager, and a part-time bail bondsman -- that he would have a bias that would disqualify him from jury service.

Jury selection is underway in Perez' corruption case. Prosecutors Michael Gailor and Chris Alexy told the judge that they felt they did establish that the nature of his job as bondsman created the potential for him to be sympathetic to criminal defendants. The prosecutors said their decision not to select the man had nothing to do with his race.

Defense lawyers Hubert Santos and Hope Seeley had raised a "Batson'' challenge to the man's dismissal, arguing that race was the sole factor.

"Your honor, we are now picking [the rest of] the jury based on the fact that we have a Hispanic juror,'' Santos told the judge Tuesday.

Dewey indicated that this was a gray area of Connecticut law but said that a juror's job -- whether it be bondsman, correction officer, or police officer -- did not automatically trump a person's constitutional right to serve on juries. She said the Hispanic man did not indicate a bias in his answers to questions from the judge about the man's views on the criminal justice system.

"Their job alone doesn't exclude them,'' said Dewey. "I have to hear the 'why.' '' I might be wrong -- it certainly would be a matter for appeal. But I don't think I'm wrong.''

On Tuesday, Santos peppered potential jurors with questions about their perceptions of Hartford and of politicians in general.

The answers from the mostly suburban pool of jury candidates tend to be less than flattering.

"Do you have any opinions about the city of Hartford?" Santos asked a 24-year-old Farmington Valley woman.

"I try to avoid it," she said of the city.

"And why's that?" said Santos.

"Just some of the scummy areas what you hear on the news; the shootings."

She ended up being excused by Judge Dewey because she said she'd vote a defendant guilty as long as she harbored a suspicion about him even if the prosecution had failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

A mother of two who works for Windsor schools had a strong opinion about politicians. Santos asked her if she'd read or heard about Perez's arrest. When she said she had, Santos asked for her impressions.

"The impression I got was that it involved an abuse of power, favors done in exchange for preferential treatment, things like that," she said.

Santos asked if she could set those impressions aside and give the mayor a fair trial.

"By nature, I'm not very trusting of politicians," she said.

She wasn't finished: "Sometimes I think voting is choosing between the lesser of two evils but I remain optimistic that people will do the right thing."

Santos tried a slightly different tack.

"If my client were able to persuade you that he was an honest person ..."

""There'd be a little more effort involved to persuade me," she said.

Santos thanked her for her candor and Dewey dismissed the woman.

Jury candidates have to demonstrate that they would follow instructions from the judge, including applying basic legal concepts such as presuming the defendant innocent.

Six regular jurors and three alternates will be selected for Perez's corruption trial next month. Four jurors have been chosen so far.

Perez, 53, is accused of accepting free or discounted work on his home from a developer family friend Carlos Costa who has received millions of dollars in city contracts.

The mayor also is accused of allowing political power broker Abraham Giles to maintain lucrative parking-lot deals in the

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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