Rajaratnam Absence, Jury Change Unsettles Trial

Wednesday, 04 May 2011 01:44 PM

 

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The jury weighing the fate of hedge fund manager Raj Rajaratnam began deliberations anew on Wednesday after a juror was excused from the high-profile insider trading trial for medical reasons and replaced.

Rajaratnam was absent from the courtroom for a second day because of treatment on an infected foot, adding to an unsettled atmosphere at the federal trial in New York in which he faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted of securities fraud and conspiracy charges.

Soon after the jury restarted deliberations, it sent a note to U.S. District Judge Richard Holwell asking to re-hear recordings of up to 12 phone taps that are at the heart of the government's case.

The jurors, except the replacement juror, had last week listened to replays of 15 audio recordings previously played during the trial that began on March 8.

Prosecutors have accused Rajaratnam of reaping as much as $63.8 million illegally between 2003 and March 2009 by trading on inside tips about such companies as chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices Inc and Wall Street bank Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

The government gathered much of its evidence by FBI agents secretly recording the Galleon Group founder's phone calls.

Sri Lankan-born Rajaratnam is the central figure in what the government calls the biggest probe of insider trading at hedge funds on record. He is the only person out of 26 charged to go on trial so far.

 

 

REPLACEMENT

In open court, Holwell said juror No. 2, whose medical condition led to the panel taking Tuesday off after six days of deliberations, was unable to return.

That juror had described herself during the jury selection process as an avid TV watcher who had also volunteered in the Israel Defense Forces.

Holwell replaced her with an alternate juror, a man who works for the parks department in a New York suburb.

This juror had told the judge he had one brother who had served prison time and another brother who was murdered in 2005, and that his cousin was in jail for drug use.

"You must disregard your earlier deliberations and begin your deliberations anew," Holwell told the 12-member jury, including the alternate juror, who was called back to the case after being allowed to leave on April 25.

The judge also told the jurors that Rajaratnam, 53, was absent "for personal reasons" and that "should not interfere in your deliberations one way or another."

Rajaratnam, a diabetic, was being treated for a bacterial infection in a foot after undergoing emergency surgery on Sunday, his main lawyer, John Dowd, said in a statement on Monday.

Six alternate jurors had been chosen should any of the original jurors been unable to stay on the case. They sat through seven weeks of evidence, and two of them joined the main jury while the evidence was being presented.

 

IMPACT

Litigation experts are reluctant to speculate about jury deliberations, including how a change would affect a panel's decision-making.

"As a practical matter, people won't just wipe clean ideas that have been fixed over six days of deliberations," said trial lawyer Gerald Shargel. "I have been involved in many trials where jurors had to be replaced. It doesn't necessarily favor one side or the other."

The duration of the deliberations so far mirrors that of other high-profile white-collar crime cases of recent years.

A juror was replaced and a jury panel took 21 days over six weeks in 2005 to acquit former HealthSouth Corp chief Richard Scrushy of accounting fraud. He was later convicted in a separate case.

The case is USA v Raj Rajaratnam et al, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 09-01184.

© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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