Judge bans leaflets meant to influence jurors at courthouses

Rachel Costello | Prior Restraints | Feature | February 4, 2011

A Florida judge on Monday issued an order prohibiting the distribution of leaflets or pamphlets created to sway jurors outside the Orange and Osceola courthouses located in Orlando.

Ninth Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Belvin Perry signed the Florida Administrative Court Order in response to representatives of the national non-profit organization Fully Informed Jury Association handing out pamphlets outside the Orange County Courthouse, according to a story in The Orlando Sentinel.

The organization advocates "jury nullification," where jurors can ignore the judge's instructions if they are "voting their conscience." Iloilo Marguerite Jones of the jury association described the organization as an "educational outfit . . . [whose members] believe in the right of free speech, and peaceful and orderly dissemination of information." Members described the handouts as jury "education" information for distribution to sitting or potential jurors, according to the Sentinel.

FIJA.org, the website for the association, provides members with access to several free printable brochures. One of the newest available brochures is titled New True or False Brochure, which stresses, "When you sit on a jury, you may vote on the verdict according to your conscience," even if it defies a judge's order or juror's oath. Jones stated that the association does not allow their members to hand out any other literature other than material the organization produces.

Perry's order said restricting the dissemination of materials containing written information that is aimed at influencing summoned jurors at the courthouse steps was "necessary to serve the State’s compelling interest in protecting the integrity of the jury system."

In addition to restricting the dissemination of pamphlets, the order also banned "approaching a summoned juror for the purpose of displaying a sign to, or engaging in oral protest, education or counseling with information tending to influence summoned jurors on any matter, question, cause, or proceeding which may be pending, or which may by law be brought, before him or her as such juror."

Law enforcement officers were given the instruction to tell anyone violating the provisions of the judge's order to cease and desist immediately. If such violators refuse to stop, they may face indirect civil contempt of court proceedings.

In response to the order, the Fully Informed Jury Association wrote a letter on Feb. 3 to Perry, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi. The organization said in the letter that there is a contradiction in the law, citing a Feb. 8, 2010, memorandum issued by Florida Judge David B. Eddy, which said: “Based on principles of free speech, I believe that whoever is distributing the handouts in question has a right to do so. Accordingly, I see no reason why the handouts must be excluded from the jury assembly room."

The association said on its website that "Judge Perry’s order is clearly unlawful and in violation of freedom of speech."

"We believe that the people who are actually in the government in the state of Florida may not be fully aware of the contradictions that have been expressed by judges," Jones said regarding the contents of the letter. "I think that if there is a concern that we need some clarification on it because we have not had this problem in many other places we have handed out literature."