NEW YORK, Nov 19 (Reuters) - Jury selection got under way on Tuesday in the criminal trial of Michael Steinberg, a portfolio manager at Steven A. Cohen's SAC Capital Advisors hedge fund, accused of insider trading.
For much of the day, a federal judge in New York questioned potential jurors on everything from their views of Wall Street, the government and prior knowledge of the high-profile case.
None of the people under consideration had been formally picked by the end of the day. Jury selection was set to resume Tuesday morning before U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan.
"We will finish picking a jury tomorrow," Sullivan said in court. "I guarantee it."
The final jury will consist of 12 jurors plus four alternates. Potential jurors include a tax lawyer, a receptionist, and, to the chagrin of Steinberg's lawyers, a onetime member of Occupy Wall Street.
The judge excused 15 out of about 100 potential jurors, including the chief executive of a boutique investment bank, a woman working in investor relations, a surgeon, an independent contractor, and a hedge fund employee.
Steinberg, 41, is the highest-level employee at Cohen's hedge fund to face criminal charges and the first to face a jury.
The trial comes two weeks after SAC Capital agreed to plead guilty and pay $1.2 billion to resolve insider trading charges. A federal judge is weighing whether to accept the firm's plea.
Steinberg has been indicted on five charges of securities fraud and conspiracy to commit securities fraud over allegations he traded in technology companies Dell Inc and Nvidia Corp based on inside information in 2008 and 2009.
He denies wrongdoing. Dell, which traded on the Nasdaq exchange, became privately held last month.
Steinberg, wearing a gray suit, stood when introduced to the room by the judge and smiled to potential jurors. He otherwise remained seated silently.
As a sign of how seriously the defense is taking the jury selection process, they have hired Julie Blackman, a social psychologist who previously served as a jury consultant on the civil fraud trial of former Goldman Sachs Group Inc trader Fabrice Tourre.
Several potential jurors questioned by Sullivan on Tuesday said they had close ties to the securities industry. One man, meanwhile, said he had been a member of the Occupy Wall Street protest movement.
"Do you think that could affect your ability to be fair and impartial?" Sullivan asked him.
"Perhaps," the man said.
Later, outside of the jurors' presence in another room, Barry Berke, a lawyer for Steinberg, urged Sullivan to remove the man from the jury pool.
"It raises real concerns about if he could be fair in a trial like this," he said.
But Sullivan declined to dismiss the man, who called himself a "dumb artist" who performed Shakespeare at a New York City park during the protests in 2011 and assured the judge he could be fair.
Several jurors were questioned by the judge after saying they had seen news about long-running investigation of SAC.
One man, who said he had heard about the case before in the news, was dismissed after telling the judge outside the presence of other jurors that he thought there was "a lot of fraud on Wall Street."
"I think he did it," the man said. "I think his boss should be there instead of him."
The case is USA v. Steinberg, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 12-cr-00121.