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Appeals court hears arguments in Stewart jury selection case

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Appeals court hears arguments in Stewart jury selection case

  • Too late to affect the ongoing Martha Stewart securities fraud trial, the appellate court ruling may well set a precedent for future high-publicity cases.

Jan. 28, 2004 — A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York City (2nd Cir.) heard arguments Monday that a federal district court judge improperly prohibited the media from covering the jury selection process in the Martha Stewart securities fraud trial.

Attorney David A. Schultz represented 17 news organizations — including all of the major TV networks and New York newspapers — in arguing that Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum of U.S. District Court in New York City violated the First Amendment in her Jan. 15 ban of the media. Reporters received only transcripts of the selection deliberations, with juror names omitted.

Interviews for prospective jurors are rarely held in secret — although such questioning in organized crime, terrorism or drug-related cases occasionally is — and only when there is a provable risk of physical harm to a publicly identified juror.

Schultz told the appellate panel there is little precedent for closing jury selection in a white-collar criminal trial. “You can count on one hand the number of cases where [jury selection] was closed in the history of this country,” Schultz said, according to a Newsday article yesterday.

Schultz cited only one other high-publicity case in which jury selection interviews were closed, U.S. v. Don King. And even then, racism — not publicity — was the deciding factor in the closure, he said. Schultz called the closure of the Stewart jury interviews “improper,” and said he hoped a decision would be reached “fairly expeditiously.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Deborah Landis admitted to the appeals court that there was no threat of physical harm to potential jurors in the Stewart case, and that she sought a closed selection process due to the media’s focus on the jurors. Potential jurors would be constrained in expressing their opinions if reporters were granted access to the process, Landis argued.

“I don’t see the evidence,” U.S. District Court Judge Loretta Preska, assigned to the appeals panel for the case, replied.

Judge Barrington D. Parker added that it was unlikely jurors would have been intimidated by a journalist, and that such fears were “teeny-tiny” compared to the potential intimidation a celebrity such as Stewart could pose.

Opening statements in Stewart’s trial began in New York City yesterday. The appeals court ruling will not occur in time to affect Stewart’s case, although it would likely clarify protocol for future high-publicity cases.

(U.S. v. Stewart ; In re ABC Inc. et. al.; Media Counsel: David A. Schultz, Levine, Sullivan, Koch & Schultz, New York City, New York) AB

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© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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