How do you prevent another Tyco case disaster, a mistrial declared because of “outside pressure toward one of the jurors,” and six months and more than $12 million taxpayers’ dollars down the drain? Well, how about not releasing juror names? I know some journalistic purists are going to accuse me of heresy, and I say it reluctantly, but jurors are different. And this may be the only way to avoid a backlash when it comes to media access to other parts of trials.
She was initially known as juror number four, the one person holding out for an acquittal, made famous after some reporters claimed to have seen her make an OK sign to the defense team during deliberations. As a result, both the “New York Post” and “The Wall Street Journal” online named her, saying she had made herself newsworthy, and presumably that enabled some idiot or idiots to call and write her, strongly encouraging her to change her mind.
Well, I still believe the judge probably made a mistake by ending the trial and sending a horrible message about how to empower those on the outside to derail a trial. This could have and would have been avoided if the jurors’ names were not part of the public record. “The Post” and “Journal” should not have named her, but that’s a journalistic question. Why not make it a legal one? Why not only allow the lawyers and the judge to know the jurors’ names? Make them part of the public record only after the case is over.
Now remember, I also opposed allowing cameras into the jury deliberations in Arizona. Why? Because unlike every other part of a trial, deliberations are designed to be secret. There are other restrictions already in place when it comes to jurors and only jurors. For example, no one’s allowed to speak to or contact them during a trial.
Juror questionnaires are often kept confidential as well. I don’t want to see this case provide more chum for the attorneys and judges who are afraid of being scrutinized. And more and more, I’m seeing unconstitutional rulings that attempt to keep the media out. So let’s just concede that jurors are different. Last month, the Martha Stewart judge kept the media out of jury selection altogether. While I thought that providing transcripts the next day was probably enough, the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York did not, saying that, “In general, openness acts to protect rather than threaten the right to a fair trial.”
It’s true, and that’s why, generally, the public must be allowed to see what the prospective jurors say in one of the most important points in a trial. But on balance, giving up juror names seems fair enough to me.