By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
By New Times
Governor J. Fife Symington III's criminal case may be decided as much by the type of cars and window shades jurors prefer as by the labyrinth of financial statements and bank memos that the jurors will see.
Symington's defense team has gone to great lengths and expense to develop a detailed analysis of the psyche of each of the 12 jurors and five alternates that will decide the governor's fate.
All jurors have submitted written answers to more than 140 questions that probe deeply into their personal lives, political views, family relationships, job history, financial background and media preferences.
The questionnaire was prepared by prosecutors and defense lawyers in the case and was given to about 200 prospective jurors. The answers to the questions provide jury consultants for both sides an extensive database from which to develop psychological profiles of jurors.
Analyzing the data for Symington's defense was Howard Varinsky, one of the nation's top jury consultants. Varinsky, who has consulted on such high-profile cases as the Oklahoma City bombing, likes to drive by the homes of prospective jurors in search of clues about their personalities.
"A pickup truck in the driveway with a gun rack might tell me I have a redneck juror, whereas a Volvo might tell me I got a liberal juror," Varinsky told the Sacramento Bee during the O.J. Simpson case.
Varinsky also likes to see how jurors cover the windows in their homes.
"You can learn a lot by doing it, just by looking at window coverings," he said in a 1995 newspaper interview. "If people have old-fashioned Venetian blinds or old lace curtains, you know that that person's going to think much more traditionally than if somebody has new Levolors or something to that effect."
Prosecutors also have a jury consultant assisting them in the case. The government has declined to identify the consultant. Jo-Ellan Dimitrius, a Pasadena, California-based consultant with Trial Logistics Inc., tells New Times her firm has worked on the Symington case, but would not specify whether it was for the prosecution or the defense.
Varinsky, who declined an interview request last week, sat immediately behind the governor during the jury-selection process that concluded on May 15. He worked closely with Symington's lawyers during the questioning of prospective jurors that consisted of a 39-person pool from which the final nine men and eight women were selected.
Varinsky also played a crucial role in the final selection of the jury. After the pool of 39 prospective jurors was selected, the defense had the opportunity to reject up to 12 without giving a reason. The prosecution was allowed to eliminate nine from the pool.
The "deselection" process was done privately; court records do not indicate which prospective jurors were booted off by whom.
"He's clearly going to have an extensive view of each juror," Rice says.
Questionnaires of jurors selected for the trial and reviewed by New Times reveal several notable trends including:
* None of the jurors on the trial signed a 1996 petition to recall Symington from office.
* Six of the jurors reported they don't read newspapers and most of the rest said they only skim local daily newspapers. Only one juror, a female, stated that she read several sections of the newspaper including editorial pages.
* The jury was nearly unanimous in "agreeing" or "strongly agreeing" that "banks are obligated to thoroughly investigate a loan applicant's background before granting a loan." Only one juror expressed no opinion on the question.
The questionnaire information is not only valuable during jury selection, it also provides clues into how jurors will react to evidence and testimony in the trial, Rice says. Such information helps attorneys decide which witnesses and evidence should be presented--or emphasized--and which should be downplayed.
"It really gives you good insight into who they are, what kind of decisions they have made in their lives, what their values are," Rice says.
Symington is just the latest in a series of prominent cases for Varinsky. Last month, he worked for federal prosecutors during jury selection in the trial of accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
But usually Varinsky is hired by the defense, and for good reason. He's assisted in the cases of several high-profile defendants including Dr. Jack Kevorkian, New York subway shooter Bernhard Goetz and former Arizona governor Evan Mecham, all of whom were acquitted by juries.
His advice doesn't come cheaply. Rice and other consultants say daily expenses can easily exceed $1,000. In complex cases such as Symington's, pretrial research and focus groups can cost more than $100,000.
While Varinsky declined to be interviewed, a 1992 article he wrote for the legal journal The Recorder details the importance he places on mock trials and focus groups, particularly in high-profile cases such as Symington's.
"Focus groups are a means to 'test-drive' case strategy and preparation, and provide an analysis of how different types of jurors react to the specific facts of an individual case," Varinsky wrote.