Smokers! Out of the courtroom!


April 22, 2007|By LAURA VOZZELLA

Want to get out of jury duty? Take up smoking.

U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz has suggested keeping smokers off the jury in the Tommy Bromwell RICO case.

His concern: Jurors stepping outside the courthouse for smoke breaks might overhear conversations among all the spectators and journalists swarming around the high-profile trial.

"It's just a potential risk. It's just something to think about," Motz told me.

Motz said he got the idea from another judge he met at a conference. He wouldn't consider barring smokers from "a case against Philip Morris." But in a big trial that has no obvious connection to smoking, he thinks that could help keep the jury untainted.

Couldn't that skew the jury pool? Smokers tend to be poorer, less educated and, according to some studies, more likely to drink than nonsmokers. Maybe a jury of nonsmokers would be less sympathetic to a defendant with blue-collar roots - not to mention lots of alcohol-laced conversations on FBI tapes.

"It's a legitimate question," Motz said, speaking generally about a potential demographic skew - not the particulars of the Bromwell case.

In a letter to prosecutors and defense attorneys in the case, Motz has asked what they think of a nonsmoker jury. So far, they haven't weighed in.

No place left to sneak a smoke

After being kicked out of offices, restaurants and bars - finally smokers could get booted from someplace nobody wants to be. Think they'd gladly be freed from an unpopular civic duty?

"The idea that the privilege should be taken away is terrible," said Michael J. McFadden, mid-Atlantic director of The Smoker's Club, a smokers' rights group.

Motz said he could understand concern from a smokers' rights angle. But he noted that he is not suggesting that smokers be barred from all juries, just those in very high-profile trials.

Federal jury selection law prohibits discrimination based on things like race, ethnicity, sex and economic status, said Professor Richard Bourne of the University of Baltimore law school. He doesn't think smokers qualify as a protected class.

Even so, Bourne said he found Motz's suggestion surprising and intriguing - mostly for what it says about society's attitudes toward smokers.

"Frankly, I think it's delicious," said Bourne, who kicked his three-pack-a-day habit cold turkey on May 3, 1990, at 3:30 p.m., the moment "a doctor scared the hell out of me."

Jim Smith, Man of Mystery

Jim Smith, the term-limited Baltimore County executive, is running for something three years from now, but he's not saying what. That was enough to induce 500 of his best friends to fork over a total of $350,000 at a fundraiser at Martin's West last week.

The money cannot be spent on a run for federal office, since it went into a state account. So what the heck is Smith running for? Certainly not governor, since Peter O'Malley, the first-termer's brother, is Smith's right-hand man.

Smith said only that in three years, he'll be running for something. (To further shroud his plans in secrecy, Smith resorted to uncharacteristic double negatives, a spy tells me.)

"If you're not prepared to run three years down the road," Smith told the crowd, "then you ain't going to be running for nuttin'."

A prophet without honor

Places like Iowa and Toronto are preparing to honor Rachel Carson on May 27, the 100th anniversary of her birth. What about Maryland?

The famed biologist and author graduated from Hopkins, taught at the University of Maryland and worked as an outdoors reporter for The Sun. And let's not forget that she partially named Silent Spring for Silver Spring, where she wrote it.

But Annapolis didn't see fit to honor her.

Last session, Sen. Brian Frosh submitted a bill to make May 27 Rachel Carson Day. It passed the Senate. But the bill got bottled up in a House committee not by some global-warming denier, but by Del. Pete Hammen, a member of the Nature Conservancy and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. What's the deal?

The Sun's Candus Thomson has been trying to find out, but Hammen hasn't called her back. Frosh said Hammen told him he just tired of so many ceremonial bills.

"Everybody was just sort of dumbfounded it didn't pass," said Rick Abbruzzese, spokesman for Gov. Martin O'Malley. "It's very likely that O'Malley will issue an executive proclamation."

Very likely? Isn't the gov out doing Earth Day stuff all day today? Thomson asked Friday.

"You can say he intends to issue an executive order."

Connect the dots

Anne Arundel County Exec John Leopold has a new puppy, a black Lab named Dora. And he wants you to know he got it at Wild Goose Kennels in Federalsburg, the same place Bill Clinton got Buddy, the chocolate Lab who was the Prez's best (and maybe only) friend during the whole Monica Lewinsky thing. Leopold's spokeswoman said the only thing we should infer is that the Republican practices "nonpartisanship all the way down to where you get your dog." ... William Donald Schaefer joined the Arbutus Roundtable for lunch Friday. His take on the race for Baltimore mayor: "I like Keiffer Mitchell. Nice man. Good friend." But of Sheila Dixon, he said, "She'll be hard to beat." ... And you thought Baltimore didn't claim a Pulitzer Prize last week. Walt Handelsman of Newsday, who was honored for editorial cartooning, is a 1975 graduate of the Park School.

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