Jury selection begins today for a voter-fraud trial involving charges against a dozen defendants, including Atlantic City Councilman Marty Small.

Small and 13 others were indicted last September on charges they disenfranchised voters in Atlantic City's 2009 Democratic mayoral primary by filling out absentee ballots themselves or changing people's votes on the ballots. Since that time, two defendants have pleaded guilty, leaving a dozen defendants to stand trial.

Superior Court Judge James Isman had been assigned to preside over jury selection. But Isman will be on the bench at a different courthouse.

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The Atlantic County judge — who has been assigned to criminal court since he was appointed to Superior Court in 1998 — moves to civil court in Atlantic City this week, leaving Cape May County Superior Court Judge Raymond Batten to oversee the trial of the first six defendants in the case.

When the decision to separate was made, the Attorney General's Office - which is trying the case - said that the first six would be Small, Floyd Tally, LuQuay Zahir, Tracy Pijuan, Toni Dixon and Thomas Quirk. Tally already is serving a sentence in an unrelated case in which he tried to blackmail then-Councilman Eugene Robinson into resigning by setting him up with a hooker and surreptitiously taping the encounter.

All the defendants face at least nine counts. Small, Pijuan and Quirk are additionally charged with hindering prosecution for allegedly lying to investigators.

The remaining six defendants includes former city Public Works Director David Callaway - who is already serving a state sentence for attempting to blackmail a then-sitting councilman with a sex tape.

His brother, former Atlantic City political powerhouse Craig Callaway, was recently released from prison for admitting to taking a bribe and his involvement in the blackmail scheme.

Lawyers for all 12 remaining defendants were called in for today's proceedings. Jury selection is expected to take about two weeks.

"Obviously, today is the first day of a lengthy process," Small said outside the courtroom before Batten took the bench. "I look forward to clearing my name and my family's name. At the end of the day, the facts of the case are going to speak for themselves."

Small said he was glad to finally have the day come so he can lift the cloud that has been over his head for more than a year.

"I'm ready to deal with this process so my family and I can move on with our lives," he said.

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