The process is expected to last at least a day and possibly two days. United States marshals said 93 prospective jurors who previously filled out questionnaires showed up at federal court Monday. They were sworn in as a group by U.S. District Judge Daniel Breen, who then began the process of questioning them in groups of 12.
The judge, along with attorneys for the prosecution and defense, will question the jurors to determine if they have any biases or ties to Ford or other courtroom participants that might disqualify them. A panel of 12 jurors and four alternates will be chosen.
Ford faces a five-count indictment that was made public nearly two years ago. He is accused of accepting $55,000 in bribes from E-Cycle Management, the bogus company set up by the FBI as part of a sting operation, to influence legislation favorable to the company. He is also charged with intimidating and threatening undercover informant Tim Willis, who is expected to testify against Ford.
Breen said jurors would not be sequestered and that there would probably not be any weekend sessions. When Ford's brother, Harold Ford Sr., was tried on federal charges in 1993 the jury was sequestered.
Breen acknowledged that John Ford's case has received considerable pretrial publicity.
"Would you be able to put aside what you have read or heard?" he asked the first group of 12 prospective jurors.
The process could take a while because of Ford's reputation and his more than three decades as a public figure and public official. In the first group of jurors, when Breen asked if anyone personally knew Ford one man raised his hand and said he had gone to school with him.
In an unusual procedure, members of the media were not allowed in the courtroom Monday in order to make room for the large number of prospective jurors. Instead, reporters are working out of a media room on the third floor of the federal building and watching the proceedings on a closed-circuit television camera.
Once the jury is chosen, reporters will be allowed in the courtroom.