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Jury selection begins in SAC Capital's Steinberg criminal trial

Michael Steinberg arrives at the Manhattan Federal Courthouse in New York, November 19, 2013. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Michael Steinberg arrives at the Manhattan Federal Courthouse in New York, November 19, 2013. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Jury selection got under way 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.

Over a three-hour period, a federal judge in New York questioned 34 of the 100 potential jurors on everything from their views of Wall Street, the government and prior knowledge of the high-profile case.

Potential jurors included the chief executive of a boutique investment bank; a tax lawyer; a woman working in investor relations; a surgeon; an independent contractor; a hedge fund employee; and a real estate agent.

None of the people under consideration had been formally picked for the jury when court broke for lunch. Jury selection was set to resume in the afternoon.

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 U.S. District Judge Richard 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.

Many potential jurors raised concerns about serving on a trial that the judge said could last four to five weeks, but Sullivan emphasized that they had a civic duty to sit on the jury if chosen.

"I don't think there is ever an ideal time," he said.

The case is USA v. Steinberg, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 12-cr-00121.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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