Jury selection has begun in the trial of four Boston Teamsters who allegedly terrorized the cast and crew of Top Chef back in 2014. The men are charged with trying to extort jobs on the hit Bravo reality show.
On the trial’s opening day, U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Woodlock cautioned prospective jurors that “some of the evidence may involve racial and ethnic slurs” and that “sometimes there are hot-button issues that disturb people when they’re exposed to them.”
He then asked if any of the prospective jurors thought that they could not could not reach a fair verdict because of this, and about two-thirds raised their hands.
As first reported by Deadline, defendants Michael Ross, John Fidler, Robert Cafarelli and Daniel Redmond were among a dozen or so Teamsters — all members of Boston’s Local 25 — who had set up a picket line on June 10, 2014, outside the Steel & Rye restaurant in the Boston suburb of Milton, where the show was filming with nonunion drivers. When Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi arrived at the restaurant, one of the Teamsters rushed her car and screamed, “We’re gonna bash that pretty face in, you f*cking whore.”
According to a witness, the picketers rained racist and homophobic threats down on other members of the cast and crew as well.
A document released by federal prosecutors said Lakshmi was “terrified.” It’s not known for sure whether she will be called to testify, but the judge told prospective jurors that she might.
“I don’t respect anyone who uses that kind of language,” one of the jurors told Deadline after she was dismissed.
“I’m not OK with homophobia or racism at all,” said another.
Court security officers then ordered Deadline to stop interviewing dismissed jurors inside the courthouse, the same place where a major trial to determine the limits of free speech is being heard.
Mark Harrington, the Local 25’s former secretary-treasurer, pleaded guilty to the same charges in December and is serving six months of home confinement.
“The indictment alleges that a group of rogue Teamsters employed old-school thug tactics to get no-work jobs from an out-of-town production company,” U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz said when the charges were filed.
Opening arguments are expected to begin Tuesday.