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Scannell trial underway with jury selection

Ten men and four women were selected Monday in Duluth to decide Cook County Attorney Tim Scannell’s sexual misconduct case.

The panel, which includes two alternates, was chosen from a group of more than 40 potential jurors following an entire day of questioning. Jurors will hear opening statements Tuesday morning before the prosecution calls its first witnesses. The case is expected to conclude by the end of the week.

Scannell, 48, is charged with two felony counts of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct over a physical relationship he had with a 17-year-old girl in August 2012. He is accused of kissing and touching the girl sexually — allegations he has essentially conceded — but the case hinges whether he was in a “position of authority” over the girl at the time.

Seven of Scannell’s family members, including his wife and two sons, were in the courtroom gallery Monday, seated immediately behind the defense table.

Several potential jurors were questioned individually by the attorneys and Judge Shaun Floerke Monday morning before attorneys spoke to the full slate of potential jurors.

One woman reported on her jury questionnaire that she was a victim of sexual assault approximately six years ago and expressed concern about serving on the jury.

“I believe the defendant needs impartial jurors,” she told the court. “It would be very difficult for me to be impartial.”

The woman was excused from service.

A man who was also questioned individually reported that his brother is serving a term in federal prison after pleading guilty to a sex crime involving a minor. The man said he believes his brother was treated fairly by the judicial system and said he doesn’t have any concerns about being fair and impartial. He was ultimately selected to serve on the jury.

During the wide-scale selection process, defense attorney Joe Tamburino asked individual jurors about detecting credibility in strangers and resolving disputes. He also discussed media coverage of the case. None of the potential jurors indicated that they would have an issue serving on the panel.

Special prosecutor Tom Heffelfinger, the former U.S. Attorney for Minnesota assigned to prosecute the case, asked jurors if they could set aside the portrayals of “perfect cases” presented by the prosecution on television dramas like “Law & Order” and “L.A. Law” and consider the facts of the case at hand. All agreed.

Heffelfinger went on to ask potential jurors to describe any mentors they had in their youth. He also asked about interactions with police and victims of sexual assault.

Scannell has been described as a family friend, coach and mentor to the alleged victim. He had known her for several years and helped her with her college plans.

The prosecution contends that Scannell was in a “position of authority” over the girl at the time of their sexual contact, making the acts illegal. However, the defense contends that the girl was of age, consented to the acts and was not under his influence at the time. That appears to be the core issue for the jury to decide.

Scannell gained notoriety in December 2011 after he was shot in the Cook County Courthouse by a man that was successfully prosecuted by his office for sexually assaulting minor girls. The accused shooter, Daniel Schlienz, died in custody before he faced charges.

The trial is a Cook County case, but the parties mutually agreed to move it to Duluth — about 110 miles from Grand Marais, where Scannell became a controversial figure after the relationship came to light in a harassment restraining order filed in late 2012.

Scannell has been on medical leave from the county for undisclosed reasons since October. He is completing his second four-year term as top prosecutor and legal advisor to the county. He is not seeking reelection.