Juror interviews hint themes of Bert Lance trial in Atlanta
Attorneys for both sides in the trial of T. Bertram Lance are revealing some of the themes they are likely to stress later in the questions they now are asking prospective jurors.
Mr. Lance, President Carter's close friend and former budget director, is on trial here on charges of violating federal banking laws. The trial is expected to last two to three months. Jury selection has been moving slowly, as prosecution and defense attorneys try to weed out anyone whose familiarity with Mr. Lance might influence their vote on the case if they are chosen.
In questions to prospective jurors, these lines of argument have emerged:
1. The Us Justice Department (prosecution) view: The case is complex and will require complicated presentations to jurors linking many Lance financial transactions in a "conspiracy" with the three other defendents to prove intentional violation of federal banking laws. The prosecution has sought to eliminate prospective jurors whom they think may not be able to grasp intricate financial dealings.
Mr. Lance is accused of "willfully" violating bank laws, including misapplying bank funds, making false statements to bank officials, and making false entries in bank records. some $20 million in loans are in question.
2. Defense view: The transactions were "simple," an attorney for one of the other three defendants contends. "The issue, as everyone knows, is going to be intent," he adds.The essence is the question of a "criminal state of mind," he says.
One of MR. Lance's defense attorneys, Nickolas Chilivis of Atlanta, asked a prospective juror three questions which may be the tip-off to his strategy on behalf of Mr. Lance: Have you borrowed money from a bank to pay off debts in the form of a loan consolidation? Have you borrowed from one company to pay off another? Have you filled out a financial statement where you list everything you own and what it's worth?
The defense apparently will try to show that Mr. Lance's many borrowings and lendings (allegedly on an unsound basis and without heed to federal banking laws) were normal activities for a banker, the kind of thing many bank customerms themselves do on a smaller scale to cope with several debts at the same time.
Prospective jurors are asked by the defense if they have every had overdrafts (most have), and what their reaction has been (most were unhappy their checks bounced).
One prospective juror accepted by both sides and the judge is a retired secretary who has worked in a bank, is familiar with financial statements, has a home loan in her name, and life insurance. She did not campaign for Mr. Lance when he ran for governor of Georgia in 1974.
But a volunteer in Mr. Lance's gubernatorial campaign was dismissed as a prospective juror by US District Court Judge charles A. Moye JR., who is hearing the case. The man asked to be excused because he might "lean" in favor of Mr. Lance, he said. The defense tried to keep him.
Judge Moye also rejected a masonary supervisor who said the "comptroller decided he [Mr. Lance] had done something wrong." One month before Mr. Lance resigned as budget director, the US comptroller issued a report saying Mr. Lance had committed no criminal wrongdoing but that his bank practices were "unsafe and unsound."
But a General Motors assembly plant worker who admitted he admires and respects Mr. Lance was accepted at least initially.