Jury selection in the second trial of those who occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016 is underway at the federal courthouse in downtown Portland.
Nearly fifty perspective jurors fielded questions from U.S. District Judge Anna Brown on a range of issues: their views on guns, media exposure to last year’s occupation and the first trial and whether they’re willing or able to sit through a trial that could last four weeks.
Six potential jurors were dismissed for financial hardships and travel plans, meaning the jury selection should wrap up by midday Wednesday.
Details about which parts of Oregon the jurors are from didn’t come up nearly as often as it did during the first trial. Those interviewed included a dance teacher, a few retirees and a woman who said she went to law school and clerked in a district attorney’s office decades ago.
The U.S. Attorney’s office is using outside help to select jurors. They’ve hired Tsongas Litigation Consulting. The firm lists Laura Dominic as a senior consultant. She sat behind Assistant U.S. Attorneys Geoff Barrow and Ethan Knight and took notes during the proceedings.
Just before jurors were set to enter the courtroom, Andrew Kohlmetz, hybrid counsel for defendant Jason Patrick, raised concerns about a consultant from Tsongas working for the government.
Kohlmetz said he had extended conversations with a consultant at Tsongas last spring and summer about a possible change of venue motion during the first trial.
“It set off some alarm bells for me,” Kohlmetz said in court. “I had multiple conversations over several months.”
He said he had conversations as recently as November, when he asked a consultant at Tsongas if they could help this second group of defendants pick a jury. He was told they were unavailable.
Kohlmetz indicated that he provided private details about the case in his conversation with Tsongas. He said Tsongas gave him three separate scenarios to pursue with respect to his change-of-venue request, which was ultimately denied by the judge. But issues around jurors were also discussed.
Knight, the assistant U.S. attorney, said Kohlmetz had not yet secured a contract with Tsongas.
Judge Brown said, “A formal contract isn’t the standard,” and ordered Tsongas to draft a declaration that Kohlmetz’s dealings and the firm’s assistance to the U.S. Attorney’s Office have been kept separate.
This article was originally published Tuesday, Feb. 14, at 12:29 p.m.
Updated Tuesday, Feb. 14, at 7:20 p.m. with details about conversations between the defense and Tsongas Consulting.