Atkinson jury to be semi-sequestered; BISD trustee’s trial on bribery charges begins Monday

The federal jury selected to hear the case against indicted BISD Trustee Sylvia Atkinson will be semi-sequestered because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A court order filed and approved Friday by U.S. District Judge Fernando Rodriguez Jr. states that the jury will remain in the jury room throughout the duration of the trial and deliberation. They will also have lunch brought in to them in the jury room.

Atkinson is scheduled to go to trial on Monday. She faces eight counts including conspiracy, bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, and violation of the Travel Act-State Bribery Law stemming from an indictment handed down by a federal grand jury in December 2019.

She has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The order states, “The clerk shall provide lunch meals for the seated jury for the duration of the trial and their deliberations. This action is taken due to the health crisis created by the pandemic and will not only help ensure the privacy of jurors, but may also ultimately save resources.”

The federal courts had been closed to the public for several months due to the pandemic.

On its website, the United States District and Bankruptcy Court of the Southern District of Texas states they are following all requirements for social distancing, masks, and cleaning at every step in every trial.

In a final pretrial conference, it was established that at the end of each day, the party presenting its case shall provide the name of witnesses they expect to call the following day, “but no less than the next four anticipated witnesses.” The government was to provide Atkinson’s attorneys the names of the first four government witnesses last Friday.

Atkinson is accused of soliciting and accepting a $10,000 bribe from an undercover FBI agent posing as an employee of local film production and advertising company Pink Ape Media.

She faces up to 45 years in prison and a fine that could total $2 million, in addition to any funds subject to forfeiture.

Atkinson is out on bond.