Thursday, June 26, 2008

Juror #9

Since his return home to the Steel City last fall, the local line on Bishop David Zubik has been simple and consistent: "He's everywhere." And from random, low-key diners to Masses of all sorts, and even a recent surprise call-in to a talk-radio show when the diocese came up, the finding's pretty well verified.

Not that the locals mind, of course -- they don't. If anything, aside from the oft-expressed concerns over whether he's taking care of himself, they rather enjoy it... and the results are already beginning to spring up.

But this week's seen "everywhere" extended even further. Usually known as "No. 12" given the lineage of his predecessors, The Dave's been empaneled as Juror #9 for a home invasion and sex-assault trial that began this morning:
Zubik reported in the morning to the jury room in the County Courthouse in a typical priest's white collar with a black suit, but defense attorney John Knorr said he recognized him right away.

"After Zubik left the interview table, one of the other attorneys asked me what I thought," Knorr said. "I said, 'Well, we're looking for fairness, not forgiveness.' I think he's fine."...

Zubik's case involves two men, Steve Ashby, 19, and Ryan Whittington, 20, and a woman, Taneesha Middleton, 22, charged with breaking into a Duquesne home.

Middleton is accused of knocking on the door and asking to use the phone. Authorities say that when a man answered the door, Ashby and Whittington forced their way in and pistol-whipped him before robbing him. Ashby is accused of forcing the man's girlfriend to perform oral sex on him.

Defense attorney James Sheets said the attorneys asked Zubik the same general questions they ask all jurors. A juror questionnaire asks, for example, if any religious, moral or ethical beliefs would prevent the prospective juror from sitting on a criminal case and reaching a fair verdict.

"The bishop answered no to that question," Sheets said. "What someone does for a living factors in, but as a whole we want fairness. The bishop is a citizen of Allegheny County like anyone else."

Mike Manko, spokesman for District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., said that prosecutors aren't opposed to priests serving on juries and that Zubik's jury service "is a great example to the community."

Several priests from the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh have served on juries, but Zubik is the first bishop in recent memory to be seated, said the Rev. Ron Lengwin, the diocesan spokesman.

Zubik's predecessor, Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl, was called for jury duty during his 18 years in Pittsburgh but not selected, Lengwin said.

Other diocesan heads haven't been as cooperative with the courts.

Cardinal John Joseph O'Connor, who headed the Archdiocese of New York from 1984 to 2000, used to forbid priests from serving on juries, said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.

"His argument was that being on a jury was participating in an act of government and the clergy were not supposed to be involved in government," said Reese.

O'Connor would send a letter to the courts and the priest would be excused from serving.

Zubik asked for no such dispensation, said Ray Billotte, county court administrator.
Saying he's "excited" about the task, the 'Burgh's KD runs an interview with the juror.

Oh, and at a recent mens' gathering out in the Alleghenies, Zubik preached about his experience as a "spiritual orphan":

Go Steelers.

PHOTO: Eric Felack/Valley News-Times