May 21 (Bloomberg) -- As she was for Martha Stewart, the founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc., and Frederic Bourke, the co-founder of handbag maker Dooney & Bourke, jury consultant Julie Blackman was on hand to aid the defense as jury selection got under way in the criminal trial of Rajat Gupta.
Blackman, a managing director at DOAR Litigation Consulting, sat at the defense table today with pen in hand to provide guidance to defense lawyers as they began picking jurors in the insider-trading trial of Gupta, a former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. director. Gupta, who’s accused of leaking illegal tips to hedge fund co-founder Raj Rajaratnam, denies wrongdoing.
Whether a consultant will help is the subject of some disagreement among white-collar lawyers on the sidelines.
Defense teams that employed her lost in the prosecutions of Stewart, who was convicted in 2004 of obstructing justice, and Bourke, who was found guilty in 2009 of conspiracy in an international bribery scheme.
With Blackman’s aid, Frank Quattrone, the ex-Credit Suisse First Boston banker, had a hung jury and mistrial at a 2003 trial for obstructing justice. He was convicted at a 2004 retrial. That verdict was later reversed.
Defense lawyers unconnected to Gupta’s case disagree on whether the presence of Blackman, a social psychologist by training, helps.
Reid Weingarten of Steptoe & Johnson LLP in Washington, told a gathering of lawyers on May 14 that he thought it was “nuts” to defer to a jury consultant, saying he has a far better feel for what’s needed in a particular case.
“They’re almost always a waste of time or a waste of money,” said Weingarten, who recently won an acquittal for Lauren Stevens, an ex-GlaxoSmithKline Plc lawyer accused of obstructing a government probe.
Theodore Wells, co-chairman of the litigation department at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, disagreed, saying lawyers need every bit of insight they can gather about potential jurors. Wells said he lets the consultant decide whether to accept a particular juror for the panel if he’s uncertain.
Scores of lawyers listened as Weingarten and Wells spoke at a meeting of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. So did Blackman, who sat in the second row scribbling notes.
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Gary Naftalis lived up to his reputation as an affable and chatty defense attorney even before jury selection began.
As he and the prosecutors waited for U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff to take the bench, Naftalis turned to the 15 or so reporters in the gallery and flashed an eight-by-ten glossy.
It was a photo of his newborn grandson, and Naftalis, 70, beamed.
“Exhibit one,” he joked.
That was just the first quip in what may be a stream of them inside courtroom 14B in Manhattan federal court.
Rakoff took the bench and initiated a discussion of preliminary matters such as opening statements and trial logistics. When the prosecutor rose to speak, Rakoff immediately cut him off.
“You look so much taller than Napoleon,” he told Assistant U.S. Attorney Reed Brodsky, the subject of two glowing media profiles this weekend. Both stories mentioned the sobriquet that Brodsky earned in the Rajaratnam trial, when deliberating jurors bestowed the nickname upon him.
During a break in proceedings, Brodsky told an onlooker that he’s “a little bit” taller than the 5 feet, 9 inches attributed to him in the news reports.
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As often happens in high-profile criminal matters, lawyers not connected to the case have volunteered to offer their insights to the reporters writing about Gupta. This time, one of them is Richard Holwell.
Holwell has an unusual perspective. Before starting his new firm, Holwell, Shuster & Goldberg, in February, Holwell was a federal judge in Manhattan. His last major trial was that of Rajaratnam, who was convicted of insider trading and whom Holwell sentenced to 11 years behind bars.
At least one reader will appreciate Holwell’s thoughts.
“I am sure his comments will be fair and balanced, as opposed to the usual government spin we receive from you guys,” Rajaratnam’s lawyer, John Dowd, said today in an e-mail to a reporter.
The case is U.S. v. Gupta, 11-cr-907, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
To contact the reporters on this story: David Glovin in Manhattan federal court at email@example.com; Patricia Hurtado in Manhattan federal court at firstname.lastname@example.org; Bob Van Voris in Manhattan federal court at email@example.com.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at firstname.lastname@example.org.