Opening Statements Expected Tuesday In Washington State Auditor Trial
This story has been updated.
Opening arguments are expected Tuesday afternoon in the money laundering and tax evasion trial of Washington State Auditor Troy Kelley. But first a jury of 12 plus two alternates must be empaneled.
Jury selection consumed day one of the trial after the judge assembled a larger than usual pool of nearly 80 potential jurors because of the high profile nature of the trial.
Jurors were questioned about their familiarity of the case, their opinion of politicians, their experience with real estate and title matters, their view of the criminal justice system and their connection to the military. In addition to his elected position, Kelley is a member of the Washington National Guard.
As to the alleged facts of the case, potential juror after potential juror professed little knowledge of the state auditor himself or the crimes he's accused of.
"I have coffee every morning with 16 old geezers like me," one member of the jury pool said. "And this case has never been brought up."
Another potential juror who acknowledged researching media reports of the case offered, "It seems kind of boring."
Kelley is charged with possession of stolen funds, money laundering and taking illegal business deductions among other charges in connection with his prior real estate services business. He has pleaded not guilty to all 16 charges stemming from a grand jury indictment.
Some jurors know more about case
A small group of six would-be jurors did acknowledge having followed news coverage of Kelley's indictment. They were called into the courtroom first and grilled by Judge Ronald Leighton about their ability to remain impartial. The prosecution and defense were allowed to ask follow up questions.
The first juror to be questioned said he was aware that Kelley had been accused of misappropriating $1.4 million and trying to hide the money from the IRS by setting up an offshore account. Asked if he could be impartial, the juror laughed out loud and said, "You are innocent until proven guilty, but it does seem somewhat damning."
Another one of the six offered that after reading news coverage of the case, "My opinion was that it didn't look very good for him."
A third potential juror said that she had sold a property during the time period involved and used Fidelity Title, one of the companies that contracted with Kelley's company, to close the deal. "I saw the name and I was like 'oh, crap,'" said the juror.
Kelley is accused of not refunding homeowner fees that the feds say should have been refunded.
"I wasn't even concerned about the refund," quickly added the potential juror.
Judge Leighton dismissed four of the jurors because of their exposure to pre-trial publicity.
Four-and-a-half week trial
Kelley sat in the courtroom in a dark suit and sporting a freshly cropped military-style haircut. One member of the jury pool admitted to confusing Kelley for one of the lawyers. Kelley is a lawyer by training.
Based on feedback from the attorneys, Judge Leighton is planning for the trial to last up to four-and-a-half weeks. He thanked the potential jurors for their willingness to disrupt their lives for a long trial.
A few members of the jury pool asked to be let off for hardship reasons. One said her sister had been murdered and being back in a courtroom was traumatic. Others cited health or job-related conflicts. The judge quickly granted one medical hardship to a member of the jury with multiple sclerosis. Others were let off for financial reasons.
By the end of the day, 20 potential jurors had been dismissed by the judge. Additional jurors will be dismissed when the prosecution and defense get an opportunity to exercise their preemptory challenges.
Despite the serious nature of the charges and the case, the jury selection process was punctuated with light-hearted moments and laughter. There were quips about lawyers and one retired member of the jury pool joked that he wanted to serve on the jury because it would get him out of a list of “honey do’s.”
Who is doing Kelley’s job?
Kelley plans to continue in his official capacity as state auditor during the trial. However, he is delegating day-to-day duties to his deputy. In an email to staff, Deputy Auditor Jan Jutte said, “Troy plans to keep up his work as auditor throughout his trial, and will be in the office periodically over the next few weeks.”
Kelley is paid $120,459 per year. He previously took a seven month leave of office, but returned to work last December after some lawmakers said they would lead an impeachment effort against him.
Regardless of the outcome of the trial, Kelley has said he does not plan to run for re-election this year.