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Antonio Veciana


Tim Gratz
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This report fromn the Miami Herald (01/06/2006) relates to the daughter of Antonio Veciana

JUROR FACES CONTEMPT CHARGE

JAY WEAVER, jweaver@MiamiHerald.com

Federal prosecutors in Miami are seeking criminal contempt of court charges against a Miami Herald writer because she allegedly failed to disclose her father's past conviction during jury selection for a 2003 civil trial.

Ana Veciana-Suarez must appear Jan. 18 before a U.S. magistrate judge for a ``show cause'' hearing to explain why she should not be held in contempt of court.

Magistrate Judge Stephen T. Brown issued the order last week after the U.S. Attorney's Office filed a criminal contempt of court petition against the longtime Herald reporter and columnist.

The petition alleges Veciana-Suarez ``obstructed the administration of justice and disobeyed the court by willfully and contrary to her oath failing to truthfully respond to inquiries'' during jury selection before the 2003 federal trial. She served as a juror.

The possible charge is a misdemeanor violation that carries a potential six-month jail term.

Veciana-Suarez's personal attorney, William Clay, said Thursday that she plans to admit she erred in failing to disclose the information about her father, who had served time in prison for a criminal conviction.

``She is very, very remorseful and embarrassed by her conduct,'' Clay said.

``Unfortunately, there are things that are very personal to people that bring up old traumas and wounds and things that they would prefer not to think about or remember,'' he said. ``I know and my client knows those psychological dynamics are not an excuse for her not disclosing this information.

``In spite of her conduct in not disclosing this information, she was a fair and open-minded juror in the case. She had no bias against either party,'' the attorney said.

Miami Herald Executive Editor Tom Fiedler said company officials were aware of the contempt of court petition filed against Veciana-Suarez, a veteran Herald employee.

``Ana has kept the newspaper fully apprised about this legal proceeding, which has not yet reached its conclusion,'' Fiedler said. ``Until then, it is premature for us to take any action affecting her assignment as a columnist and staff writer.''

In the federal civil trial, Veciana-Suarez and seven other jurors awarded an $8.3 million civil judgment to a fired Brinks' courier in October 2003.

The former employee, Mario Martinez, sued Brinks for ``malicious prosecution'' after he was acquitted of criminal charges in state court that alleged he stole a bag containing $350,000 from the armored car company.

But in August 2004, Brown, the magistrate, reversed the federal civil jury's verdict for Martinez, ruling instead in Brinks' favor. Brown said Martinez failed to prove Brinks was responsible for his arrest and prosecution by Palm Beach County authorities.

At the same time, the magistrate also cited a new development in the Brinks' case that was unrelated to his decision to throw out the judgment. He learned after the trial ended that during pretrial questioning under oath, Veciana-Suarez did not disclose her father's criminal drug-trafficking conviction.

Brown said Veciana-Suarez didn't raise her hand or speak up when the jury pool was asked such questions.

Brown ruled that Veciana-Suarez ``failed to disclose material information, necessitating a new trial in this case.'' The retrial depends on whether Martinez succeeds on appeal, which is pending.

Brown sealed the court record to further investigate the alleged juror violation. When he held a closed hearing in March 2004 to question Veciana-Suarez, she declined to respond, invoking her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Brown referred the matter to federal prosecutors for review.

In his ruling and recent court papers, the magistrate noted that the juror's father, Antonio Veciana, was convicted in 1974 in New York of conspiring to distribute cocaine and was sentenced to seven years. His daughter, who was in high school at the time, was the only defense witness at the trial.

After the conviction was upheld by an appeals court, her father served time in federal prison in Atlanta.

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John, this is called jury voir dire. In the states, in a state trial, each attorney has the right to question potential jury members. In federal court, the judge does the questioning.

An attorney would want to know if a jury member had previous experience, directly or through a family member, with the judicial system which might influence the juror's ability to render an impartial verdict in the case at bar.

The case against her was probably initiated by the party that lost the trial on which she served as a juror.

An astute jury panel member could have requested to answer the question in private, in the judge's chambers, to avoid any public embarrassment.

I understand this lady has been a well-respected Herald staff member for many years.

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Guest Matt Allison

And I'm going to shamelessly use this thread to restate my request that Lamar Waldron release a full, unedited transcript of his interview with Antonio Veciana.

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