Benji Hardy is in the courtroom and reports that Judge Billy Roy Wilson’s early remarks included some apparent concern about pre-trial publicity, perhaps referring to the Arkansas Blog.
We’ve noted that, to date, Suhl has managed to come and go from the federal courthouse without having to pass photographers, as previous defendants accused of bribery have done. (Former state Treasurer Martha Shoffner and former Circuit Judge Mike Maggio, to name two.)
A Justice Department spokesman says Suhl has received no special treatment and was not afforded back-door access, as sometimes is given sensitive visitors. Perhaps Suhl simply arrives very, very early at the courthouse. Photographers in place at 7:30 a.m. this morning did not see him, but he was on hand in court when the trial began. Cameras are not allowed inside the courthouse.
Jury selection is underway. The trial is expected to run through next week.
Suhl’s operation of the Lord’s Ranch, later renamed Trinity Behavioral Health, has been the subject of several investigative articles in the Arkansas Times over the last 20 years. His community-based counseling businesses operated under the name Maxus. Among the allegations pursued by prosecutors were suggestions that Suhl influenced people in charge of juvenile placement to use his businesses. He also was appointed by Gov. Mike Huckabee to serve on the board that regulates child treatment facilities.
UPDATE: A jury has been seated and opening statements delivered. The government’s case follows that in the indictment — Suhl paid former legislator and DHS official Steven Jones and former probation officer and West Memphis councilman Phillip Carter for favors. Jones will clearly be a key witness. Suhl’s defense will cast doubt first on Carter and depict him as a recipient of money Suhl aimed to go to a local church. That apparently will be an argument to explain undercover video of Suhl passing a check to Carter. Jones, who received consulting fees from Suhl, perhaps will be harder to explain, though Suhl’s attorneys have already raised Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s successful legal theory that giving financial benefit to a politician is not a crime without specific public acts in return.
UPDATE: Nelson Chenault caught Suhl and entourage leaving the courthouse this afternoon.