Juror Loses Job for Serving in Terror TrialJuror Loses Job for Serving in Terror Trial

New York Times – by BENJAMIN WEISER

To be chosen as one of the jurors in the terrorism trial of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, a son-in-law of Osama Bin Laden, would understandably cause some unease.

But for one woman, serving on the jury has brought about some unexpected tension: the loss of her job.  

On Friday, the woman, Juror 21, called the judge’s chambers and said her employer had claimed to have figured out which case she was on and told her she would be paid for only three days. Then, the woman said, she was told she was being demoted — and then she was laid off.

Jury duty anywhere is hard enough, particularly in terrorism cases like that of Mr. Abu Ghaith, who has been charged with participating in a conspiracy with Al Qaeda to kill Americans; so sensitive is the trial that the jury has been kept anonymous, with all 12 jurors and six alternates being referred to only by number.

The courts rely on the good faith of citizens and their employers to do their civic duty. But by Juror 21’s account, her employer had different plans.

After getting her call, the judge, Lewis A. Kaplan of Federal District Court in Manhattan, held a telephone conference on Friday to alert Mr. Abu Ghaith’s lawyer and prosecutors to the situation.

The judge said that a federal statute makes it unlawful for an employer to discharge, intimidate or coerce a permanent employee in connection with jury service, and such action could make an employer liable for damages and other civil penalties, a transcript of the phone conference showed.

He then had his deputy courtroom clerk, Andrew Mohan, who had taken the juror’s call, describe it.

Mr. Mohan said the juror’s employer had told her that being laid off “was to her benefit, because then she could collect unemployment while she was doing jury duty, and that she could reapply for her job after the trial.” The trial, which began this week, is expected to last about a month.

Juror 21 is a single mother of three children and in her late 30s; she said she worked as an accountant for “a major school bus company.”

Judge Kaplan noted that he had been “down this road” before.

In the 2010 terrorism trial of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a juror had asked to be excused because her employer, a medical office in Westchester County, would pay her for only five days of service.

The judge appointed an independent lawyer to call the employer, but the effort went nowhere. Judge Kaplan excused that juror, calling the situation “outrageous.”

“My personal view is that the behavior of the employer is cavalier and — and I choose the word very carefully — unpatriotic,” he said at the time.

On Friday, after the judge’s clerk described Juror 21’s call, Mr. Abu Ghaith’s lawyer, Stanley L. Cohen, expressed concern that the juror might find it hard “to focus and to observe and to be objective for either side.” A prosecutor, Nicholas J. Lewin, suggested that the judge’s actions in the Ghailani case might be the best approach.

Judge Kaplan said that he would appoint a lawyer, whose services would be offered to Juror 21 at no cost, “to deal with this problem on her behalf.” Neither Mr. Cohen nor the government would comment on Friday.


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