LARGO — Twenty Pinellas County residents are about to go on an expenses-paid trip to Orlando, but it's not exactly a Magic Kingdom vacation.
The 20 locals will take a six- to eight-week journey through the legal system, to serve as jurors and alternates in the murder trial of Orlando mother Casey Anthony, a case that has received national notoriety.
An Orlando judge, in Pinellas County's criminal courts complex on Monday, interviewed dozens of local residents to see who could be picked for a task that he admitted was an "enormous inconvenience."
Orange-Osceola Circuit Judge Belvin Perry needs 12 jurors and eight alternates to stay in Orlando to hear the case against Anthony, accused of killing her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee Marie Anthony. Caylee disappeared in 2008, and her remains were discovered months later about a quarter-mile from her home.
The media glare in the Orlando area prompted Perry to order that jurors be imported into Orange County for the trial. He was so concerned with publicity that Pinellas was not announced as the location for jury selection until Monday morning.
About 110 Pinellas residents filed into the courtroom Monday morning, no doubt thinking they would serve two or three days as jurors — if at all.
When Perry explained the nature of this trial, many said they simply couldn't go away that long. A single mother with a 7-month-old baby was promptly excused.
A home restorer said his job was not paying him for one day of jury duty Monday, let alone six weeks. If he was picked for the jury, "I'd probably get home with no place to stay and all my stuff out on the curb," he said.
"There's no way I could be away from the (family) business for that long,'' said another man, who said he also cares for a daughter with a brain injury. He was excused, too.
One young woman said her job would not pay her, because the court pays jurors.
"So they would ask you to survive on the princely sum of $30 a day?" the judge asked.
But others told Perry that they could go to Orlando. One man said he believed he could get away from work, and while his 7-year-old daughter would miss him terribly, his wife "might be happy to get rid of me."
One young woman said she could serve because she is a student who just went on summer break. Another man said he is single and unemployed. When a defense attorney asked if he had plans for the next six to eight weeks, he said, "Not that I'm aware of, sir."
Although the downside of the job was obvious, some seemed to agree with Perry that being a juror is an important civic duty.
"I'd love to be a part of it, but I don't think I could afford it," another man said.
The scene took place in the largest courtroom in the Pinellas Criminal Complex, big enough to hold the 110 potential jurors, a slew of lawyers and a couple of rows of reporters. After explaining the situation to the group, Perry brought potential jurors into the courtroom individually and questioned them. The lawyers asked followup questions.
Along the way, Perry explained the hardships and the minor perks of this trip to Orlando. He said jurors will be housed together in a hotel, and not allowed to watch news shows or use cell phones. They could use the Internet to pay bills, but not to research the case. They could watch some preapproved movies, and maybe even play PlayStation games.
The jurors will hear testimony on weekdays and half-days on Saturdays. Their movements will be restricted. "You couldn't go to Downtown Disney or Church Street Station," Perry said to a young unemployed man, although he did say some side trips would be arranged.
A court spokeswoman said the group would not be allowed to visit their families, but Perry said jurors would be allowed to call their families and have them occasionally visit the hotel.
The case shows how it has gotten even more difficult to sequester jurors, keeping them separated from outside information that might bias them, said Charles Rose of Stetson University's College of Law.
"If I was the judge, the first thing I'd do is take the phones away (from jurors) and limit Internet access," said Rose, professor of excellence in trial advocacy at Stetson.
Otherwise, he said, jurors will be tweeting about events in court and searching Wikipedia for information about decomposition of human remains. That could taint the trial and lead to an appeal — or worse, having to declare a mistrial and start over.
Perry spoke to 66 potential jurors Monday and will resume today. On Monday, they were asked only about the potential hardships of serving away for so long. Later, potential jurors will be asked more questions designed to determine impartiality.
More than 600 media outlets have received credentials for the trial that begins next week in Orlando.
Times staff writer Craig Pittman contributed to this report. Curtis Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8232.