Jury Selection Begins In Rajaratnam Trial

Mar 8 2011 | 2:16pm ET

The hedge fund trial of the century opened today, as a federal judge began vetting the jurors who will decide the fate of Galleon Group founder Raj Rajaratnam.

Jury selection began this morning in Rajaratnam's trial on insider-trading charges, nearly 17 months after the former hedge fund billionaire was arrested. U.S. District Judge Richard Holwell is questioning about 150 potential jurors at the federal courthouse in lower Manhattan, based on a questionnaire they filled out last week.

About half of the 300 people who completed the questionnaire were excused for hardship reasons; Holwell warned—and elicited and audible groan from—the remaining potential jurors that the trial could last as long as two-and-a-half months, up from earlier estimates of six to eight weeks.

Holwell began with a panel of 40 potential jurors, asking them for their feelings on Wall Street, people of Indian descent (Rajaratnam is a native or Sri Lanka) and the wealthy. Only eight of the first 40 indicated that they had heard about the Rajaratnam case.

Among the questions Holwell asked were, "Does that fact that the case involves the financial industry, Wall Street executives, hedge funds, mutual funds and the like, make it difficult for anyone to render a fair verdict?" and "Does anyone have any feelings, for or against the insider-trading laws, that would make it difficult to render a fair and impartial verdict?"

Holwell also read a list of potential witnesses, including both of Rajaratnam's brothers, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein and former McKinsey & Co. chief Rajat Gupta. There are more than 100 possible witnesses in the case.

Rajaratnam sat as far from the jury as he could, on the far left of the second table allotted for his seven-member defense team, led by John Dowd. The prosecution table featured six people, including three assistant U.S. attorneys.

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