Jury selection began early Wednesday in the federal trial for former Florida Atlantic University professor James Tracy’s quest to get his job back amid claims that university officials and faculty union members conspired to fire him because of his controversial views about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings and Boston Marathon bombing.
Circuit Judge Robin Rosenberg spent the first few jurors sifting through a crowd of prospective jurors and individually questioning jurors who had already formed opinions based on the short summary of the case she read to them or had otherwise heard about the case, which garnered national headlines when Tracy was fired nearly two years ago.
Among those was a woman who said she knew one of the professors who would be called as a witness in the case. She thought she could remain impartial in spite of that, but had strong opinions about the views Tracy expressed in a personal blog, including his theory that the U.S. government staged the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre in order to promote gun control.
“It doesn’t belong in a classroom and it’s, I should say, not a part of the course that should be expounded to students,” the woman said. “I don’t think it’s proper, that’s all.”
“But you understand, this case is not about what is taught in the classroom,” Rosenberg responded, asking the prospective juror whether she could put aside her disapproval of Tracy’s beliefs and decide the case strictly on the facts presented at trial.
The woman said she didn’t think she could, but defense attorneys in spite of that would not agree to dismiss her from the panel, so Rosenberg at least for now has kept her in the group of possible jurors.
Attorneys on both sides did agree to dismiss a male prospective juror who came in shortly afterward and said that he agreed with Tracy’s views and knew he wouldn’t be fair.
Another woman, a self-described cynic who said she believes corporate leadership woefully inadequate in Florida when compared to her native New Jersey, gave a thumbs up to Tracy on her way out of the courtroom after she told Rosenberg she had read all about his case and supported him.
“I know the case. I like the case. I was sending people links about the case when it happened,” the woman said.
Jury selection is expected to continue Wednesday afternoon.