Mickelson Fan Out of Bounds in Insider-Trial Jury SelectionBy
Potential juror had ‘look of rapture’ on her face, judge says
Billy Walters accused of making $43 million on illicit trades
A Phil Mickelson fan won’t be on a jury at a Las Vegas gambler’s insider-trading trial in Manhattan after a judge concluded she looked too eager to participate when the famous golfer’s name was mentioned.
The woman’s dismissal during jury selection is the clearest indication yet that Mickelson, a three-time Masters tournament winner and a favorite of many golf enthusiasts, may be called to testify in the trial of Billy Walters. Walters is accused of making $43 million on inside tips from Tom Davis, the former chairman of Dean Foods Co.
U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel on Monday closely questioned potential jurors to determine whether they might be star-struck if Mickelson appears at the trial after his name featured near the top of the list of about 50 possible witnesses.
This one juror candidate smiled broadly at the mention of Mickelson’s name, saying her fiancee was a professional golfer and even tugging at the gray argyle golf sweater she was wearing as evidence of her love of the sport. The woman insisted she could be fair to both prosecutors and the defendant. "I’m finding it hard, but I’d like to think that I can be intelligent and make my own decision," she told the court.
Castel wasn’t swayed, telling lawyers that he likes to look into the eyes of potential jurors and read their faces.
‘Look of Rapture’
“I’m going to excuse this juror,” Castel told lawyers out of earshot of the potential jurors. “From my observations, there is an attachment. Mr. Mickelson’s name is out there, but this juror impressed me with a different level of reaction. The look of rapture on her face at the mention of his name and her repeatedly saying it wouldn’t influence her is enough for me.”
Walters, often considered the most successful sports gambler in the country, is a secretive figure who parlayed his winnings into a business empire of golf courses and car dealerships. He allegedly passed on Davis’s inside tips to Mickelson. The professional golfer made almost $1 million on Dean Foods trades. Mickelson wasn’t charged but paid back the money he made.
Out of the woman’s presence, the judge asked prosecutors if Mickelson will be a witness.
"I have no idea, I suppose it’s a possibility," Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan Goldman said. Pressed again by the judge, Goldman finally said, "He will be a part of this trial."
Glenn Cohen, an attorney for Mickelson, declined to comment on whether his client will testify. Mickelson, who has played in every Masters tournament since 1995, qualified for this year’s event as a past champion. The Masters is scheduled for April 6 to April 9.
Walters, 70, and Davis, 68, met more than 20 years ago on a Southern California golf course and forged a relationship based on “sports, golf, gambling and business,” prosecutors said. Davis, who’s expected to be the government’s star witness, pleaded guilty and admitted he gave tips to Walters in return for money and loans to support a luxurious lifestyle and gambling habit.
At Monday’s jury selection, the judge questioned about 45 people including several candidates who said they were sports bettors, avid golfers or who recognized Mickelson’s name. At the end of the day, a jury of seven women and five men were selected to hear opening arguments that will begin on Wednesday afternoon. Castel told jurors the courthouse would be closed Tuesday because of an impending snow storm and that the trial should take about a month.
The judge read off a list of names of potential witnesses in the case that in addition to Mickelson, also included White Wave Foods Co. Chairman Gregg Engles, who prosecutors said would likely be their first witness.
"Let’s say someone did bring in Phil Mickelson, can you say if you can evaluate them fairly?” Castel asked. “Or say, ‘Well, my goodness this is a well-known professional golfer he must be telling the truth.’ Can you assess his testimony fairly?"
One prospective juror who identified himself as a lawyer and golfer told Castel he could be fair even though Mickelson’s name immediately caught his eye when he looked over the witness list.
“I don’t know if I’d give him more or less credence,” the man said. “I might give him less, based on his playing.” The man also wasn’t chosen to be a juror on the case.
Mickelson hasn’t won a PGA tournament since 2013.
The case is U.S. v. Davis, 16-cr-338, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).