CLEVELAND – Additional afternoon questioning of potential jurors in the federal corruption trial of co-defendants Jimmy Dimora and Michael Gabor made clear people across northeast Ohio have been following this case.
Only seven out of 44 potential jurors had not heard about the charges against Dimora and Gabor.
The jury pool was pulled from seven counties south of Summit County, where the federal trial is being held in U.S. District Court in Akron.
The counties consist primarily of rural areas, but the jury pool had some definite connections to Cuyahoga, including one potential juror who worked in the county.
The federal case was built on the largest corruption probe in county history. Defense attorneys had argued in the months leading up to jury selection that because news of the probe, raids and indictment was far-reaching, and they believed would create a “media circus,” the trial should be moved further away from Cleveland. The judge denied that request.
The potential jury members told the judge they heard about the case through news reports on television, the Internet, radio and newspapers.
Several times U.S. District Court Judge Sara Lioi asked if potential jurors could remain objective, asking the question in different ways, such as, “Do you understand news reports may or may not be accurate?” and “Can you set aside those news reports and decide this case solely on the facts presented?” The judge also asked, “You understand those news stories don’t have all the evidence before them?” To some potential jurors, the judge asked if they had ever posted anything related to the case on any blogs.
Work-related issues were also called into question by Judge Lioi. Some jurors stated they work winter-based jobs, and others expressed their concern over the possibility of missing work for up to three months, the possible length of the federal trial.
Many jurors also were asked about knowing of the guilty plea former Cuyahoga County Auditor Frank Russo. Judge Lioi asked several people if they could put aside his plea when considering the charges against Dimora and Gabor.
Russo pleaded guilty to more than 20 corruption-related charges in December 2010. He faces more than 20 years in prison, but that could be reduced after his expected testimony against his one-time friend and political ally, Dimora.
Dimora will be tried with a co-defendant, Michael Gabor, of Parma. Dimora and the former employee in the county auditor’s office both had asked to be tried separately. The judge refused.
Gabor, like Dimora, has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy, bribery and other charges.
At 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, the court took a brief recess, before the last eight jurors were set to face additional questioning by the judge.
The trial is scheduled to begin on Jan. 9.