Jury selection opens in case against Anna Nicole Smith's doctors, boyfriend
LOS ANGELES – A woman who works with addictive drugs and one who was a fan of Anna Nicole Smith's TV reality show were among those cleared to fill out questionnaires Thursday during the first phase of jury selection for the drug conspiracy trial of two doctors and the late model's lawyer-boyfriend.
Superior Court Judge Robert Perry greeted the jury prospects with warnings that it was a high-profile case, and that they may be familiar with the life of the blond Playboy model who died of a drug overdose in 2007 in Florida.
The defendants are not charged with causing Smith's death, but are accused of illegally providing her with opiates and sedatives. Dr. Sanjeep Kapoor, Dr. Khristine Eroshevich and Stern have pleaded not guilty to charges related to overprescribing drugs and illegally obtaining drugs for Smith under pseudonyms.
"I work for a hospital, and I know what Oxycodone does to people," one prospect said, referring to one of the drugs involved in the case. "I've had relatives that got hooked into it."
The prospect also said she watched TV coverage when Smith died.
The judge asked whether she could be fair in evaluating the evidence, to which she replied, after a long pause: "I think I could be fair."
He told her to fill out the 14-page questionnaire. Those who complete the forms will return Aug. 2 for in-depth questioning.
Another woman said she had been a fan of Smith's reality show. Looking across the courtroom at Smith's lawyer-boyfriend, defendant Howard K. Stern, she said she did not like him because Smith "pushed him around, and I thought he should have been tougher." The judge ordered her to fill out a questionnaire.
In an unusual procedure, jurors are being asked to disclose their own medical histories and drugs they have used. They are being asked if they or anyone they know has ever abused prescription drugs, and whether they socialize with their doctors.
Many of the queries on the questionnaire distributed to prospective jurors are specific to expected evidence in the case, such as whether a doctor ever made a house call for them, as Kapoor did for Smith; whether they have ever obtained a prescription without visiting a doctor's office, as Smith did; or whether they have had a relative or friend pick up a prescription from a pharmacy, as Stern allegedly did for Smith.
Prospective jurors also are asked if they believe celebrities have a right to privacy about their medical records.
Perry told the prospects in court that until they know whether they are going to be jurors, they are forbidden to watch or read any news relating to the case.
The questionnaire also included a list of 94 potential trial witnesses, including Larry Birkhead, who was declared the father of Smith's daughter after a public fight over paternity with Stern. Smith's bodyguard and his wife, two nannies who worked for Smith in the Bahamas, and the Florida medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Smith's body are also on the list.
The trial was expected to last three months. Opening statements are scheduled for Aug. 4.