Keeping jurors names from the public

July 19, 2010
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When is it appropriate to delay the release of juror’s names in a trial? That’s an issue that the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals sidestepped last week on an appeal of the decision of the District judge in former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s trial to keep confidential the names of the jurors until after the trial is finished, which could take months. The jurors were selected at the beginning of June.

Several news organizations wanted the jurors’ names so they could investigate and run stories on them. The District judge feared releasing their names would undermine impartiality and discourage others from serving in the future. The District judge also worried the jurors would be bombarded by e-mails and other communication during the trial if their names were released. He had been contacted several times about the case, even by a random person from off the street.

Sequestering jurors would probably solve the problem of unwanted contact, but is it fair to sequester people for months?

The District judge decided to not to release jurors’ names without evidence or holding a hearing. To complicate matters, he promised the seated jurors their names wouldn’t be released until after the trial ended. The press argued it’s a First Amendment issue – the right to access.

Instead of ruling on the matter, the 7th Circuit ordered the District judge to hold proceedings consistent with the opinion, and to keep the names confidential until a decision has been made.

When should a judge make the decision to keep jurors’ names from the public? Should jurors involved in high-profile cases remain anonymous until the end, always, or never?

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