WASHINGTON — A federal judge Tuesday postponed the sentencing of former White House aide Oliver L. North until July 5 to provide time for a court hearing into defense allegations that a juror may have used drugs and lied to hide the fact that members of her family had been prosecuted.
U.S. District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell unsealed court papers in which North's attorney, Brendan V. Sullivan Jr., challenged the conduct of juror Tara Leigh King. But independent counsel Lawrence E. Walsh, in filings responding to the charges, called the allegations "thin" and "unsubstantiated" and said that North's lawyers were trying "to impeach the jury's verdict."
Gesell, in an act that suggested he does not believe the issue will impair the jury's May 4 verdict convicting North of three felonies in the Iran-Contra scandal, ordered a 12-day postponement in North's sentencing rather than suspending it indefinitely. But he said that he will conduct a full hearing on June 28.
Court sources said that the judge regards the issue as serious enough to require "a full airing of the facts" so that the trial record can be protected.
Sullivan, in a motion dated May 30 that was unsealed Tuesday, contended that King, 34, a copy machine operator, "has periodically admitted to the use of narcotics (i.e., crack) close to the time of trial."
"The possibility that a juror might have been under the influence of narcotics during the trial calls into question the fairness of the proceeding and warrants further inquiry," he added.
Sullivan questioned King's veracity also, saying that she had "family members who were involved in the criminal justice process and . . . this involvement was not disclosed on the jury questionnaire" that King and other jurors completed before North's trial.
Sullivan later produced records for the court showing that three of King's 14 brothers and sisters have arrest records. The records include an armed robbery conviction against one brother, and drug cases dropped against two others.
However, Walsh replied in his filings that the only substantiation for drug use occurred in King's post-trial interviews with reporters in which she acknowledged having used cocaine and marijuana up to four months before the trial but not while she sat on the case.
Walsh contended that there is no evidence that King was aware of any arrest records of family members or that she had them in mind when she was asked to disclose whether any relatives ever had been involved in "civil or criminal proceedings."
North was originally scheduled to be sentenced Friday.