Young's lawyers question fair trial

Jury's racial makeup of 10 whites, 2 blacks draws complaints

September 14, 1999|By Scott Higham | Scott Higham,SUN STAFF

Lawyers for Larry Young complained yesterday about the racial makeup of the mostly white jury selected to hear the corruption case against the former state senator and criticized prosecutors for using nearly all of their objections to strike African-Americans from the panel.

Defense attorney Gregg L. Bernstein said Young's right to a fair trial was undermined by the small number of African-Americans in the jury pool. At the end of the day, 10 whites and two blacks were selected as jurors.

Young, who once chaired the legislature's Black Caucus and the Baltimore City delegation, took a leave from his job as a morning radio talk-show host to be at the trial.

The comments from Young's lawyers came after jury selection in the West Baltimore Democrat's criminal trial on corruption charges. Opening statements by prosecutors and Young's defense team are scheduled for 9 a.m. today.

Defense lawyers had argued that the trial should be held in Baltimore, where Young, who is black, served as a delegate and state senator for nearly 24 years. But prosecutors persuaded Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Joseph P. Manck this summer to keep the trial in Annapolis, where Young served in the General Assembly before he was expelled on ethics charges in January 1998.

After selecting the jury yesterday, Bernstein told Manck that Young's constitutional right to a fair trial under the 6th Amendment had been violated. Of the 66 potential jurors brought into the fourth-floor courtroom, only seven were African-American, he noted.

"That small number is significant," Bernstein told the judge.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys were each allowed to strike four members of the potential pool yesterday. Bernstein said prosecutors used three of their four strikes to prevent three blacks from joining the jury.

That left four African-Americans in the pool of potential jurors. Two were impaneled, one was named as an alternate, and the fourth was not selected. The judge asked prosecutors if they wanted to respond.

"No response," State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli said.

Young faces four counts of bribery, four counts of extortion and one count of filing a false tax return for allegedly using his elected position to help a medical company win a lucrative state health-care contract. Prosecutors accuse Young, who denies any wrongdoing, of extorting and accepting $72,493 from the company.

Also yesterday, Manck ruled on a defense motion seeking to prevent testimony from state officials who were familiar with Young's efforts on behalf of the company, PrimeHealth Corp. Those officials include members of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's administration.

Defense lawyers said that allowing the testimony would violate the state constitution's "speech and debate" clause because Young's actions as a state legislator would be used against him in criminal court.

While Manck rejected much of the argument, he ruled that jurors could not hear testimony about how Young helped to persuade administration officials to change a rule on behalf of PrimeHealth, enabling the company to participate in a lucrative statewide health program.

Young, who was accompanied by a small group of supporters, joined his defense team as potential jurors were called to the judge's bench to answer questions. Several asked to be excused after Manck told them that the trial was likely to last two weeks.

The judge also read from a long list of possible prosecution and defense witnesses and asked potential jurors whether they knew any of those named. None responded. The list included Major F. Riddick Jr., the governor's chief of staff; a state insurance department official; and several current and former officials of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Nearly all of the potential jurors stood when asked by the judge whether they had heard or read anything about Young's case. His indictment by an Anne Arundel County grand jury came nearly a year after he became the first legislator in more than two centuries to be expelled from the General Assembly.

Sun staff writer Walter F. Roche Jr. contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 9/14/99

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