Attorneys for Gilbert Baker, the former Republican Party chair and senator accused of bribing Mike Maggio with political contributions to get him to reduce a verdict in a nursing home negligence case, have asked federal Judge Price Marshall to allow expanded questioning of potential jurors because of unusual aspects of the case.
In a filing last week, they explained why supplemental questions are necessary:
Baker is charged in a nine-count indictment with conspiracy to commit federal program bribery and honest services wire fraud and related substantive counts in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§371, 666(a)(2), 1343, and 1346. The indictment alleges a complicated scheme to bribe a state court judge to fix a civil case through illegal campaign contributions out of Political Action Committees and straw donations. Undergirding the allegations are divisive social policy issues involving tort reform, conservative vs. liberal judicial candidates, the health care/nursing home industries, and campaign financing. The case has also generated a significant amount of pretrial publicity.
They include queries about what news media the jury panel members follow, their political inclinations, their feelings about corporate contributions, nursing homes and “tort reform” and some questions about specific people.
Among the questions is one about knowing Michael Morton, the Fort Smith nursing homeowner, or having had a friend or family member in one of his nursing homes. His campaign contributions, arranged by Baker, influenced Maggio to reduce a jury verdict against a Morton-owned home in Greenbrier from $5.1 to $1 million. Morton has not been charged. He has said he made legal contributions to PACs and supported many judicial candidates. Baker likewise has said no quid pro quo was intended. Maggio is serving a 10-year sentence for pleading guilty to reducing the award in return for the contributions. Baker’s trial is scheduled for July 26, with jury selection to begin three days earlier.