By DINESH RAMDE
MILWAUKEE (AP) – Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker served two days as Juror No. 20 on a personal-injury case, but he was dismissed just before deliberations began Wednesday because the CEO of a company involved in the case had donated to his campaign.
Walker was one of 13 men selected Tuesday to hear the Milwaukee County case. It involved a woman who said she was injured when another driver rear-ended her vehicle in 2009. The defendants included Secura Insurance, an Appleton-based insurer.
Walker said he discovered Monday that he’d received $2,000 in campaign donations from Secura CEO John Bykowski between 2009 and 2011. He alerted the judge of that through law enforcement officials, he told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The revelation in court Tuesday didn’t change anything right away. Attorneys for both sides said they were confident Walker could remain fair and impartial.
The trial got underway with all 13 jurors hearing testimony, even though only 12 participate in deliberations. After closing arguments are over, one juror is generally selected at random and designated an alternate and dismissed. The purpose is to have an extra juror in case one needs to be dismissed for illness or other reason.
When it came time to select a juror for dismissal Wednesday, both parties decided to choose Walker, agreeing it would be the most prudent course of action.
Emily Davey, who represented the plaintiffs, and Peter Mullaney, a lawyer for Secura, both told AP they were confident the governor could have done his job impartially. But they said dismissing him would remove any sense of unseemliness.
“Given the media coverage after he was selected as a juror I was just concerned there could be an appearance of impropriety,” Davey said.
She also said Judge Kevin Martens did a good job of screening jurors from the outset, asking whether they knew other jurors in the pool and whether they’d have trouble negotiating with them.
Both attorneys said they were surprised Walker was even a member of the jury pool.
“You don’t expect to just run into the governor,” Mullaney said.
When a jury is being selected, either attorney has the right to strike out, without explanation, the names of some potential jurors. Davey and Mullaney said they saw no reason to dismiss Walker at the outset.
The remaining 12 jurors awarded about $22,500 to the plaintiffs, Carri and Michael Natarelli. As Michael Natarelli left the courtroom he said it was “interesting” to have had the most powerful man in Wisconsin listening in on their case. He and Carri Natarelli declined to comment further.
While it’s not common for a sitting governor to get called for jury duty, it has happened. Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California was called for jury duty in 2007 but he wasn’t picked for a case.
In 2005, President George Bush was called to serve jury duty in McLennan County, Texas, but he was granted a postponement after citing “other commitments.” That same year, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry was picked for a jury on a civil case involving a car crash.
Other celebrities including Olympian Michael Phelps, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and actors Tom Hanks and Charlie Sheen have also been called for jury duty. However, celebrity jurors aren’t often selected because lawyers often want to avoid the distractions from the media or elsewhere.
Walker said he enjoyed the jury experience and hoped his example would serve as an incentive for others to serve when their names are picked.
“It was very interesting sitting all that time on a jury, seeing what they have to go through,” Walker said. “… Hopefully it goes to show people across the state it’s completely random and that nobody should consider themselves too busy to be picked for jury duty.”
Associated Press reporter Scott Bauer in Madison, and AP researcher Barbara Sambriski in New York also contributed to this report.