A few moments broke the typical tedium of the jury selection process, as the trial kicked off to determine if Sam Bankman-Fried is guilty of fraud in the $8 billion collapse of the FTX cryptocurrency empire. Amidst boilerplate questions about medical conditions or life circumstances that might prevent candidates from serving for the planned six-week-long trial, Judge Kaplan probed them on their involvement with finance, cryptocurrency, and the companies at the heart of this case.
Several of the jurors responded in the affirmative when asked if they or members of their families ever traded cryptocurrency. "Win or lose?" asked the judge. All of them had lost money. "I invested in crypto. I did lose a lot," said one candidate. "My twin brother invested even more and it did finally ruin him."1 He wasn't selected.
Other jurors expressed strong dislike for cryptocurrency. "I'm not sure I could be totally unbiased about crypto given the history and everything negative I've heard about it," said one. Others confessed to being baffled about the concept in general, including one who'd tried to have his son explain it and still came away feeling foggy. "You probably have a lot of company in this courtroom," replied Kaplan, who also explained that strong feelings about cryptocurrency would not be relevant to the case.
One juror expressed that the case reminded him of the 2008–2009 Bernie Madoff case, in which the mastermind of a $65 billion Ponzi scheme ultimately received the maximum sentence of 150 years in prison. Judge Kaplan quickly called a sidebar, likely concerned that such a comparison might bias other jurors, and dismissed the candidate.2
Many of them had connections to the finance industry, which is perhaps unsurprising for a trial taking place in Manhattan. One prospective juror — not ultimately selected — worked for a company that had lost money in FTX.
One candidate worried that she might not be able to reach a guilty verdict if it meant Bankman-Fried might be sentenced to death. Although judges normally stress to jurors that they must render judgment regardless of the possible sentencing, Kaplan reassured her that a death sentence was not among the possible outcomes of this case.3
Jury selection spilled over into day two of the case, but by Wednesday morning the twelve-person panel — with six alternates — was decided.
Sidebar: I've experimented with recording a real audio version of this post (rather than Substack's computer-generated voice) for those who prefer listening to reading. Thoughts? Is it worth the time?
(Pick option "No, but I would like to" if you would like to listen to audio versions if there was an actual voiceover, not just the computer-generated one. These polls have a cursedly short character limit.)