Court rejects proposed rule requiring juror anonymity
WISCONSIN–In mid-November, the Wisconsin Supreme Court in Madison unanimously rejected a measure that would have required jurors’ identities in all cases brought in state courts to be kept secret.
The proposal would have permanently sealed the names of jurors and personal information about them, such as their places of employment. In an oral decision from the bench following a public hearing, the justices expressed concern about juror privacy and questioned the need for the release of jurors’ social security numbers and phone numbers. However, the panel ultimately rejected the measure. James Friedman, the attorney for the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, said that the justices held that the proposal was overbroad and was contrary to Wisconsin’s history of openness.
On August 13, the Director of State Courts proposed a Supreme Court Rule that would have required complete juror anonymity in all criminal and civil cases brought in state court. The director suggested that the Rule was necessary to “decrease juror fear, increase juror honesty, and insulate jury deliberations from the corrupting influence of fear.”
The Wisconsin Newspaper Association, the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, and the Freedom of Information Council, along with several other organizations, opposed the measure. The media organizations argued that the United States Supreme Court has held that records identifying jurors are presumptively open to the public and that such a presumption can only be overcome by an overriding interest that closure is essential to preserve higher values and that any closure is narrowly tailored to serve that interest.
The media organizations added that knowledge of juror identities works to uncover juror bias and deters intentional misrepresentation at voir dire. According to the media organizations, “The American jury system — open and public in all but the most exceptional circumstances — is the antithesis of the Star Chamber.” (Petition 98-09;Proposed SCR 73.04–Juror Confidentiality; Media Counsel: James Friedman, Madison)