Mass. high court rules jury lists should be public

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JAN. 27, 2015…..The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday ordered trial courts to create lists of jurors that will be made available to the public “no later than the completion of the trial.”

In his opinion Justice Robert Cordy cited the 18th century Boston Massacre trial, where he said the jurors who acquitted the British soldiers were known to the public. Cordy referenced the ancient proceeding to bolster his point that the identities of jurors are open to the public “under long-standing Massachusetts law, practice, and tradition, even in high-profile and contentious cases.”

Chief Justice Ralph Gants dissented with the order, worrying that the court “may someday come to regret” it. The case originated from the Boston Globe, which sought the names of jurors during the trial of Nathaniel Fujita, who was found guilty of murdering his ex-girlfriend in March 2013.

Rather than provide the jurors’ identities, Judge Peter Lauriat wrote to jurors to see if they were “amenable” to speaking to reporters, and only provided the names of those who responded affirmatively, according to the decision.

Cordy wrote that access to information about jurors “promotes confidence in the judicial system by, among other things, providing an independent nongovernmental verification of the impartiality of the jury process, and educating the public as to their duties and obligations should they be called for jury service.”

The ruling stated jurors names may be kept private only when there is “good cause,” and said, “A judge’s personal distaste for press interviews of jurors is accorded no weight in this balancing.”

“Who are we kidding? The press wants the names of jurors so they can interview the jurors about what was said in the jury room and why they reached the verdict they did,” wrote Gants.

Noting that Cordy’s decision conceded it is “not inappropriate” for judges to advise jurors against recounting deliberations, Gants said, “The court itself recognizes the dangers lurking in such an inquiry.”

After a verdict is issued in a major case, reporters typically attempt to speak to jurors about their decision. Selected from the general public, jurors are the arbiters of facts in trials, deciding whether the evidence against a defendant is believable.

The SJC noted there appears to be “inconsistency” within the courts on retaining lists of jurors. Gants said the Globe could have ordered a transcript of the jury empanelment to obtain the names, and said the new rule could expose jurors to unsavory communications.

“We have had few instances in this Commonwealth where jurors have been threatened or harassed after their verdict, but many jurors fear the possibility, especially where they reside in or near the communities of the litigants or the litigants’ families,” Gants wrote. He wrote, “I also fear that the creation of a juror list to be included in the case file may, over time, diminish the fairness and impartiality of jurors.”

Copyright 2015 State House News Service

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