Jury seated in Nagin trial; opening statements begun

Advocate staff file photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- Former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin enters federal court with his attorneys, including Robert Jenkins, first left, in January.
Advocate staff file photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- Former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin enters federal court with his attorneys, including Robert Jenkins, first left, in January.

Twelve jurors and four alternates were sworn in Thursday afternoon to hear the evidence in the corruption trial of former Mayor Ray Nagin.

The group includes nine men and seven women. Two in the group are Asian, one is black and the other 13 are white. It was not immediately clear which jurors will be alternates.

Of the 60 prospective jurors interviewed by attorneys on Monday, 16 were African-Americans.

After swearing in the group, U.S. District Judge Helen “Ginger” Berrigan read the jury some brief instructions — mainly, to disregard anything they might have heard or read about the case, and to consider only the evidence they hear during the trial.

She told jurors not to speak to anyone, including family members or fellow jurors, about the case, because that might lead them to form opinions before it is appropriate to do so.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Coman began reading the 25-page indictment charging Nagin after the instructions were given.

Clad in a dark suit, white dress shirt and a tie, Nagin sat attentively and occasionally whispered with his lawyer, Robert Jenkins, as Coman read the indictment, which catalogs 59 “overt acts” that prosecutors allege were part of a self-dealing scheme.

Berrigan’s courtroom was more than half-full, as curious lawyers and others wandered in to catch a glimpse of the highest-profile federal corruption trial the courthouse has seen in years. But a number of seats remained empty.

Those in attendance included at least 14 journalists, including reporters for The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal as well as various local media outlets.

Nagin came to court alone, save for his four-member legal team, just as he did on Monday, when jury selection started before being interrupted by a two-day break caused by winter weather.

Opening statements started soon after the jury heard the charges against Nagin.

“Corruption was alive and well in this building,” Coman told jurors, showing them a picture of City Hall.