Newspapers' attorney claims media restrictions during trial were unfair
By The Associated Press
TRENTON, N.J. A trial judge exceeded her authority when she issued an order barring journalists from contacting jurors or publishing their names after the murder trial of a rabbi ended in a mistrial, media lawyers argued yesterday.
Warren Faulk, representing Philadelphia Newspapers Inc., publishers of The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News, told the New Jersey Supreme Court that Superior Court Judge Linda G. Baxter's order was arbitrary. He argued that neither the prosecution nor the defense sought to have the jurors protected.
Baxter issued the order in the case of Rabbi Fred J. Neulander, 60, of Cherry Hill, who is accused of hiring two men to kill his wife, Carol, in 1994.
Baxter said prospective jurors were concerned about being hounded by reporters in the high-profile case and it was important to protect them. Her order also barred any descriptions in the media that could identify individual jurors; it did not prevent jurors from approaching members of the media.
A state appeals court upheld the order Nov. 30.
Dennis Wixted, Neulander's lawyer in the first trial, argued that his side was willing to live with the consequences if jurors decided themselves to talk with journalists.
"We know they haven't come forward," Wixted said, adding that a trial with such media scrutiny as Neulander's required protection for jurors.
Associate Justice James H. Coleman questioned the media's need to talk with jurors.
Faulk replied that newspapers must have access to gauge jurors' experience with the jury deliberation process and the legal system on behalf of their readers.
Lawyer Thomas Cafferty, representing the New Jersey Press Association, said there is no record of overzealous media inquiry of jurors that would support Baxter's order.
The Supreme Court did not issue a ruling yesterday, and it was not clear when it would do so.
Five reporters, including four from the Inquirer, have faced contempt charges for violating Baxter's order.
In February, Carol Saline, a Philadelphia Magazine staff writer, was fined $1,000 and received a 30-day suspended jail sentence for approaching a juror during the trial.
Inquirer reporters George Anastasia, Joseph Gambardello, Emilie Lounsberry and Dwight Ott are facing civil charges for publishing the name of a juror in a news story several days after the trial ended.
On March 15, Baxter ruled that Neulander's retrial will be moved out of Camden County because of the heavy publicity surrounding the case. Although fair, the coverage was "so pervasive, so prevalent, so unrelenting that it would make it impossible to pick an impartial jury here," Baxter said.
A hearing will be held May 17 to determine where the new trial will be held.
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State appeals panel: Judge was right to bar media from contacting jurors
Judges say news accounts of prior deliberations in former rabbi's murder trial could potentially harm ability of second jury to be fair.
Reporter fined for approaching juror in murder trial
Meanwhile, New Jersey high court agrees to hear appeal of order that barred journalists from contacting jury in case against rabbi.