Juror Screening Begins in Robert Blake Trial

For some prospective jurors, the Robert Blake (search) case may be the hottest ticket in town — a high profile murder trial with a former TV star as defendant.

For many others, however, it's something they would rather avoid.

The trial of the former "Baretta" star could last four months and jurors will have to face a battery of questions from lawyers on everything from their jobs to their TV viewing habits.

The process, called "hardship screening," was to begin Monday and may involve as many as 1,800 prospective jurors before lawyers start their questioning. The majority are expected to cite family and professional reasons for not serving on such a long trial.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Darlene Schempp (search), who will try the case, has said she wants a pool of 150 to 200 prescreened jurors ready to be quizzed Nov. 15 when lawyers take over.

Blake, his lawyer, the prosecutor and the judge won't be present during the initial jury screening phase.

Blake, 71, has pleaded not guilty to one count of murder, two counts of solicitation of murder and a special circumstance of lying in wait. He is accused of killing his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley (search), whom he married after DNA tests showed he was the father of her baby.

Blake told police he found Bakley shot in their car on May 4, 2001, after he went back into the restaurant where they had just dined to retrieve a gun he carried for protection.

The restaurant and Blake's former home are only a few miles from the Van Nuys courthouse where he will stand trial.

Monday's proceeding was to begin with a welcome from Sandy R. Kreigler, supervising judge of the Van Nuys court. Gloria Gomez, county director of jury services, will then spring the news that the potential jurors are there for the high-profile Blake case.

A group of 125 prospects has been summoned for each day during the three weeks before lawyer questioning begins. Those who say that serving for such a long period would be a hardship won't automatically be dismissed. They must fill out forms explaining their problem and a jury commissioner will then determine whether to release them.

Those who say they can serve will be given a written jury questionnaire asking standard questions about their backgrounds, their reading and TV viewing habits, their views of law enforcement, what they know about the case and whether they believe they can be fair and impartial. Lawyers will study the questionnaires before in-person quizzing.

Prospects who say they have already formed an opinion on Blake's guilt or innocence may be dismissed by agreement of lawyers before questioning starts.

Schempp scheduled a hearing Nov. 2 for a status report on how many prospects will have been dismissed up to that point.