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Federal judge won't make juror names public in Abner Louima retrial

By The Associated Press

09.09.02

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A federal judge in New York last week denied a motion by The New York Times to make public the names of jurors in the retrial of former officer Charles Schwarz in the Abner Louima case.

Judges in the previous trials had ruled that the juries should be kept anonymous due to intense publicity and racial tension surrounding the case.

On Sept. 4, U.S. District Judge Reena Raggi rejected the Times' arguments that interest in the case has subsided enough that concealing the identities of jurors in the retrial "is unjustified and inappropriate."

"Anonymity is required by the intense and sometimes divisive public feelings generated by the case," the judge said.

In papers filed late last month, the Times had argued that appeals court decisions have "made clear an anonymous jury is a rare exception to the presumption of openness, and is warranted only where there are strong reasons to believe that the jury actually needs protection."

Prosecutors allege Schwarz violated Louima's civil rights by restraining him while another officer, Justin Volpe, sodomized him with a broken broomstick.

In July, a jury found Schwarz, 36, guilty of lying about escorting the black Haitian immigrant toward the bathroom, but deadlocked on the more serious civil rights charges. An appeals court threw out two previous convictions this year.

Schwarz denies ever being in the bathroom during the 1997 attack, which sparked protests alleging widespread abuse of minorities by police.

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, the move by Milwaukee County to seal the names of jurors from public inspection at the end of trials is following a trend toward what some call "secret justice."

Chief Judge Michael J. Skwierawski said May's courtroom outburst by a convicted murderer, who took a deputy's gun and shot him before being shot and killed by a police officer in front of jurors, played a role in his July decision.

Keeping jurors' names out of the court file would not have made a difference in that incident, but Skwierawski said prison inmates have made requests for jury lists from concluded cases.

The state's public-records law already allows the denial of public-records requests from inmates, unless they are seeking records pertaining to themselves.

"Jurors have a very important role in our society," said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Virginia-based Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. "The identity of jurors has been public for years. We put a lot of faith and trust in juries. That trust depends on knowing who those jurors are."

Skwierawski said the rule does not make juries anonymous, which has been done in some high-profile cases involving organized crime and fear of jury tampering.

Attorneys and defendants would still know jurors' names for the voir dire, or jury selection. And anyone else who sat through that procedure could hear the names.

They just would not become a part of the permanent court file after the case. Even then anyone wishing to see the jury list could petition a judge for permission.

"We are not sealing these records from public view for ever and ever," Skwierawski said. "They are available and subject to the open-records law.

Christopher Ahmuty, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, said juror privacy was probably a legitimate concern in a few cases, but that it could be addressed on a case-by-case basis.

"There should be some sort of criteria or evidence that demonstrates a need," rather than a blanket rule that seals all jury lists, he said. "Jurors have some limited right to privacy, but it's got to be balanced with an open, transparent criminal justice system."

Paula Hannaford-Agor of the National Center for Jury Studies in Williamsburg, Va., says courts are increasingly concerned about juror privacy.

"Nowadays, with all the technological improvements and access to information from a variety of sources, you've got a much heightened sense among the citizenry for privacy," Hannaford-Agor said.

She said she'd heard reports of criminals posing as court officials asking jurors for additional personal information to process their jury pay, then using the data to open bank accounts in their names.

The degree of juror confidentiality varies, she said, but the practice has been growing since 1996, when California enacted a state law requiring jurors' identities to remain confidential after all criminal trials absent a "compelling" reason for release.

Related

Wisconsin Supreme Court rejects jury-anonymity proposal
Lawyers, news media praise decision to maintain state's reputation for open government and courts.  11.18.98

Ohio high court weighs newspaper's bid to view juror questionnaires
Prosecutor asks justices not to release forms or jury members' names, addresses, arguing the rights of the accused 'supersede the right of immediate access by the press.'  09.19.02

Ruling affirming anonymous jury flouts principle of open trials
By Douglas Lee 5th Circuit decision in U.S. v. Brown treats ordinary newsgathering as threat to ‘integrity and independence of the jury process.’  05.29.01

N.J. high court explains ruling upholding ban on media contact with jurors
Majority says prosecutors might get unfair advantage in rabbi's retrial if they hear news reports of what jurors in original trial thought of their case.  07.24.02

Missouri high court: Jurors' names should be public
Justices say names may stay secret only in cases where a judge finds a compelling reason.  01.02.03

Secret juries threaten integrity of judicial system
By Douglas Lee Provision of new law seeking to protect jurors from harm misses mark, instead damages openness of courtrooms.  12.30.99

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