On Monday, questioning of would-be jurors one by one will start. Judge Charles Burns will be trying to weed out anyone who could be swayed by Hudson’s celebrity status.
Hudson is expected to be at the trial every day once testimony begins, court officials say, and she’s on the 300-name list of witnesses who could testify. The judge will warn prospective jurors to avoid watching TV coverage of the trial.
Hudson will need to refrain from overt displays of emotion as potentially starstruck jurors’ eyes dart back at her, said Gerald Uelmen, a defense attorney at O.J. Simpson’s murder trial.
“The risk is that jurors may be watching her rather than testifying witnesses, and they could be influenced by how she reacts,” he said. “She would be well advised not to engage in any facial expressions or outbursts. That could be grounds for a mistrial.”
Prosecutors say William Balfour, the 30-year-old estranged husband of Hudson’s sister, shot the family in a jealous rage because Julia Hudson was dating another man. Jennifer Hudson, also 30, and Balfour grew up in the same South Side neighborhood.
The dilemma posed by Balfour’s trial became clear last week, when 150 potential jurors filled out their questionnaires in court. Nine of the 66 questions dealt with Hudson’s career: Would-be jurors were asked if they’d ever seen her Academy Award-winning film “Dreamgirls” and if they belong to an organization for which Hudson is a spokesperson, presumably a reference to Weight Watchers.
It was obvious many potential jurors had heard of the killings, some gasping when the judge first read the name of the case.
And when Burns asked if anyone felt they couldn’t hear the evidence “without sympathy, bias or prejudice” to step up, he looked on with apparent alarm as five, 15, then 20 people rose. He finally told everyone to sit down and disregard the question, for now.
Judge Burns has made it clear he won’t tolerate disruptions. He’s barred tweeting from inside court because he fears feverish typing would distract jurors. He’s imposed gag orders on attorneys. Cameras also won’t be allowed in the courtroom.
Judges don’t insist jurors be blank slates, they merely want to know if jurors can set aside their biases and preconceptions, said Laurie Levenson, a law professor at Loyola Law School Los Angeles.
“You certainly don’t want a juror who hasn’t heard of Jennifer Hudson, for instance,” Levenson said. “That would raise other serious questions, like, where’s this person been living — under a rock?”