Monday, September 19, 2011

Mayor Bloomberg's star wattage may blind potential jurors in John Haggerty case: experts

Monday, September 19th 2011, 4:00 AM

Mayor Bloomberg's wealth will make it hard to portray him as a sympathetic victim, observers say.
Debbie Egan-Chin/News
Mayor Bloomberg's wealth will make it hard to portray him as a sympathetic victim, observers say.
John Haggerty is accused of duping Bloomberg.
Marc A. Hermann for News
John Haggerty is accused of duping Bloomberg.

Manhattan prosecutors will have their hands full Monday keeping potential jurors in a grand larceny case from getting distracted by the alleged victim: Mayor Bloomberg.

Jury selection is set to begin in the trial of political consultant John Haggerty on charges of stealing $1.1 million from the mayor during Bloomberg's 2009 reelection bid.

The case opens a window into how politicians work around complex election laws and presents a challenge in keeping the jury's focus on Haggerty and away from Hizzoner.

"If a witness is a sitting mayor the jury may be instructed to ignore it - but how can they?" said Mark Bederow, a defense lawyer and former Manhattan prosecutor.

Haggerty is accused of duping Bloomberg into paying for a bogus poll-watching operation and using $600,000 of the funds to buy his brother out of a home they co-owned in Forest Hills, Queens.

Haggerty's lawyers - among them former Attorney General Dennis Vacco - argue the money was obtained legally from the Independence Party, which got the cash as a donation from Bloomberg.

They argue that the real issue is the roundabout way Bloomberg paid for the poll-watching service - allowing him to avoid reporting it as a campaign expense.

Jury selection experts said Bloomberg's star wattage may blind some potential jurors, and it may be impossible for prosecutors to weed out anyone with a grudge.

"The most important part of the trial is jury selection - without the right jury you might as well go home," said a Manhattan prosecutor who is not involved in the case.

Margaret Bull Kovera, author of the upcoming book "Jury Selection," said it will be impossible to protect against juror bias unless there is a change of venue.

The billionaire mayor's wealth will make it hard to portray him as a sympathetic victim, observers said.

"It's not a little old lady who was hit over the head and had her purse snatched," said defense attorney Earl Ward. "He's got more money than God. They're not going to think, 'Poor Mike Bloomberg.'"

mgrace@nydailynews.com

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