Herald writer pleads guilty to 2003 contempt charge
Miami Herald writer Ana Veciana-Suarez, who did not disclose her father's past criminal conviction during jury selection for a trial, pleaded guilty to a contempt charge.
BY JAY WEAVER
Miami Herald staff writer Ana Veciana-Suarez pleaded guilty Wednesday to a contempt-of-court charge for not disclosing her father's criminal history during jury selection for a 2003 federal civil trial.
The plea agreement in Miami federal court calls for a $5,000 fine but no jail time. U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen T. Brown, who called the offense ''extremely serious,'' must still approve the deal, which was recommended by Veciana-Suarez's lawyer, William Clay, and the U.S. attorney's office.
JAN. 26 HEARING
A sentencing hearing is set for Jan. 26. The violation -- a petty misdemeanor -- carries a maximum of 30 days in jail and/or a fine.
Though it was not part of the deal, Veciana-Suarez voluntarily filed a personal apology with the court.
''I can't begin to express how sorry I am,'' she wrote in a one-page statement.
''I don't want this apology to be misconstrued as an excuse, because there is none,'' Veciana-Suarez said, explaining that she withheld the information during jury selection ``to protect my father and my family.''
``No matter the motives, I know my behavior was inexcusable. I did wrong. There is no one else to blame. I take full responsibility for my actions.''
Miami Herald Executive Editor Tom Fiedler refrained from comment, saying ``It would be inappropriate . . . while the case remains under consideration by the judge.''
In December, Miami federal prosecutors sought a criminal contempt-of-court charge against Veciana-Suarez for allegedly failing to disclose her father's past criminal conviction during the jury-selection process.
Brown ordered Veciana-Suarez, who also writes a Saturday column on family matters, to appear Wednesday for a ''show cause'' hearing to explain why she should not be held in contempt.
The government's petition alleged Veciana-Suarez ''obstructed the administration of justice and disobeyed the court by . . . failing to truthfully respond to inquiries'' before the trial.
Veciana-Suarez was picked as a juror for the October 2003 trial. She and seven others awarded an $8.3 million civil judgment to a fired Brinks' courier. The former employee, Mario Martinez, sued Brinks for ''malicious prosecution'' after he was acquitted of criminal charges in state court that alleged he stole a bag containing $350,000 from the armored car company.
`FAIR AND UNBIASED'
In her apology to the court, Veciana-Suarez said that ``in my heart of hearts, I remained a fair and unbiased juror, as did the other seven who served with me to the best of our abilities.''
But in August 2004, Brown reversed the jury's verdict, ruling in Brinks' favor for an unrelated reason: The magistrate judge said Martinez failed to prove the company was responsible for his arrest and prosecution.
At the same time, the magistrate said he learned that during pretrial questioning under oath, Veciana-Suarez did not disclose her father's drug-trafficking conviction or that she had testified as a witness in his case.
Brown said she didn't raise her hand or speak up when the jury pool was asked such questions.
In his ruling and recent court papers, the magistrate noted that the juror's father, Antonio Veciana, was convicted in 1974 in New York of conspiring to distribute cocaine and was sentenced to seven years. He served time in an Atlanta prison.