NEFAC Filed Amici Brief in Case Arguing for Release of Juror Info; Court Cited Help of Coalition in Decision
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 | firstname.lastname@example.org
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit recently ruled that the public has a right to the names and home addresses of jurors, saying that this information is needed to hold the judicial system accountable despite increased privacy concerns.
“[T]here is now a greater potential for the public release of a juror’s name, and, especially, a juror’s address, to be more intrusive and concerning than would have been the case in an era in which social media was unknown,” according to the Jan. 18 decision.
“But,” the court added, “these technological changes have by no means diminished the need for accountability and transparency in our system of justice . . .”
The decision was in a case brought by WBUR-Boston — represented by Jeff Pyle of Prince Lobel Tye — when the station was denied access to the names and home addresses of the jurors in U.S. v. Chin. The case, which drew national attention, involved a pharmacist convicted in Massachusetts for his role in a deadly 2012 multi-state meningitis outbreak.
The New England First Amendment Coalition filed an amici brief last February arguing that delaying access to juror information is “contrary to democratic norms of transparency and accountability inherent in the American criminal justice system.”
“Being able to interview jurors about public trials is essential for good government,” said Justin Silverman, NEFAC’s executive director. “The public needs the opportunity to better understand these cases whether the verdict is guilty, not guilty or it’s a hung jury.”
Knowing the identities of jurors can also allow the public to better vet those jurors and keep them honest about their relationships with parties in a judicial proceeding, Silverman added.
The First Circuit acknowledged NEFAC’s amici brief and called it helpful to its decision. The ruling covers the states of Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. It can now be cited in other federal circuit courts.
Joining NEFAC in the brief were Gatehouse Media, Keene Sentinel, Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, MaineToday Media, New England Newspaper & Press Association, New England Society of News Editors, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and Union Leader Corporation.
The First Circuit heard the case after a federal district court judge denied WBUR’s request for the juror information and allowed only names and hometowns — not specific street addresses — to be released. The district court judge also decided to release that information after the sentencing which occurred months after the verdict, when juror information is typically released.
The judge cited privacy concerns in his decision to withhold street addresses and delay the release, but didn’t provide any specific circumstances in the case to warrant such concern. On appeal, the First Circuit court ruled that there must be “particularized findings” that would justify non-disclosure.
“The obligation of jury service is one of the most important that our government imposes on its citizens,” according to the First Circuit decision. “It is, therefore, important to ensure that the fulfillment of this obligation is not made so burdensome that it becomes more than a citizen should have to bear. It is important to ensure as well, though, that our system of justice remains accountable to the broader public that it serves.”
NEFAC regularly files and joins amicus briefs in cases involving the First Amendment and the public’s right to know. The coalition recently argued for the release of birth and marriage records in Massachusetts, immediate access to civil court documents, the right to private emails of government officials when they pertain to public business, the freedom to record public police activity and the preservation of anti-SLAPP laws.
NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.
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Major Supporters of NEFAC include the Barr Foundation, The Providence Journal Charitable Legacy Fund, The Boston Globe, WBUR and Boston University.