By Steve Tawa
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The judge who will preside over the lengthy civil trial in connection with the deadly 2013 building collapse that crushed a Salvation Army Thrift Store has closed the entire jury selection process to the public and the media.
Judge Teresa Sarmina has not only slapped a “gag” order on lawyers and parties involved in the Salvation Army Thrift Store collapse civil litigation — no one can talk about it — she has now taken it a step further, and closed the voire dire — the entire jury selection process. The judge, out of an abundance of caution, is trying to prevent tainting the jury pool.
Attorney Lawrence McMichael, who is not involved in this case, and who has handled many high-profile civil cases over the last 40-years, calls it “a very unusual move.”:
“Generally speaking, judicial proceedings are open to the public, and for good reason — it’s supposed to be a transparent process.”
He also points out the collapse itself and subsequent criminal trial were highly visible and publicized.
“Jurors are told not to read, listen to or watch media reports, and to consider only what they hear in the courtroom, which is properly admitted evidence.”
120 people were brought in en masse, and now they are being whittled down, after filling out a lengthy questionnaire. The survey lists dozens of questions, starting from whether they could serve during such a lengthy trial, to whether they they can decide the case based on facts, not emotion.
We won’t know the manner in which plaintiff and defense lawyers strike potential jurors, either by their direct questions to individuals, or by using peremptory challenges, for which they don’t have to state a reason.
The civil trial will decide whether individuals or entities are liable financially for the collapse that killed six and injured 13.
Among other cases, Judge Sarmina handled the 2012 Roman Catholic clergy sex abuse trial of Monsignor William Lynn.
During the process, they will seat 12 jurors. But there will be an unusually large number of alternate jurors, standing by.