At about 3:45 p.m. Thursday, Juror No. 11 was free to leave the building and resume her campaign for governor.

That's when Republican Meg Whitman was dismissed as a potential juror in a San Mateo County child-molestation case.

Earlier in the day, while being questioned, Whitman told attorneys she would serve if selected but acknowledged this is "not a good time for me to give 100 percent."

Defense attorney Richard Keyes asked the former eBay CEO if, considering "the nature of your current position "... this might be one of those cases that it's not the right time" to serve on a jury.

"I would try my very best," Whitman replied. "Whether it is the right time for me is another question," she added, drawing laughs from the courtroom.

Keyes told prospective jurors the trial "might be in the three- to four-week range." Election Day, when California voters will decide whether she or Democrat Jerry Brown will be the next governor, is less than nine weeks away.

The jury chosen in Superior Court Judge Beth Freeman's courtroom will decide the fate of Tarquin Craig Thomas, a 44-year-old British citizen suspected of molesting three boys. He is accused of arranging to bring one of the boys, a 9-year-old foster child from Oregon, to his San Mateo home and molesting him as he began proceedings to adopt him.

Whitman, an Atherton resident, arrived alone at the San Mateo County Hall of Justice and Records at about 8:40 a.m. She told a Bay Area News Group reporter she had been called to jury duty 11/2 years ago but was dismissed.


Advertisement

"If called, I will serve," she said, adding that she considers jury service "an important civic duty."

While waiting to be called into the courtroom, Whitman, dressed in a charcoal gray pantsuit, sat quietly on a bench in the second-floor lobby working her cell phone. At least two people approached her for autographs, including one man who had a lengthy conversation with her.

Once Whitman and about 70 other potential jurors were brought inside the courtroom at 9:30 a.m., she fiddled with a blue pen and occasionally chewed her nails while listening to the proceedings. Later in the day, she began reading some papers when other potential jurors were questioned.

Attorneys peppered them with such questions as how they feel about insanity defenses, their ability to weigh evidence before making decisions, and whether they considered homosexuality a crime or a sin.

Keyes asked Whitman whether her ties to law enforcement would make it difficult for her to be objective. "I believe you have a platform that's tough on crime," Keyes said.

"I do," Whitman replied, going on to explain that she has connections with all 58 of the state's district attorneys, has endorsements from police officer associations and has spent time with victims' rights organizations.

She also noted that she "spent quite a bit of time talking" with state Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, R-San Diego, a campaign co-chairman, about Chelsea's Law, a bill he co-authored to crack down on sex offenders after 17-year-old Chelsea King of San Diego was murdered by one.

During the questioning, Whitman was told that some of the potential evidence gathered in this case came by way of eBay, although the nature of that evidence was not discussed.

Asked if the race for governor would be too distracting or overwhelming for her to serve, Whitman said: "If empaneled, I would serve, but as you can imagine, there's a lot going on running for governor of California," an endeavor she described as "an enormous undertaking."

Prospective juror Cheryl Vistnes, a nurse, said in an interview later she was impressed that Whitman showed up.

"I think it's honorable that she was willing to do her duty," Vistnes said.

Interviewed outside the courtroom after she was excused, Whitman said she would have made it work if called to serve.

"It would be a challenge," she said. But "I've got a long career in business. You deal with issues that come up."