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Court strikes down prior restraint but affirms ban on juror contact

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    NMU         NEW JERSEY         Prior Restraints         Apr 23, 2002    

Court strikes down prior restraint but affirms ban on juror contact

  • The state high court found that a judge may ban post-trial interviews with jurors pending a retrial to protect against “insights” into juror deliberations.

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled April 22 that a judge could bar the media from contacting jurors, but could not ban the press from reporting the names of jurors read in open court.

The ruling arose from the murder trial of Rabbi Fred Neulander, who is accused of arranging his wife’s murder. Neulander’s trial last fall resulted in a mistrial and he is expected to be tried again in August.

At trial, Judge Linda Baxter issued an order that banned press contact with jurors and barred the press from publishing juror names, even though the names had been read in court. The order also barred the press from identifying the jurors in any way.

A mistrial was declared because the jury could not reach a verdict. The press asked Baxter to dissolve her order, but Baxter ordered that the ban on juror contact and on publishing juror names be reaffirmed.

Philadelphia Newspapers Inc., which publishes both The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Philadelphia Daily News, challenged Baxter’s orders. The New Jersey Court of Appeals affirmed Baxter’s orders, leading to an appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court. Although the court has not yet issued a formal written opinion, the court announced that it would strike down the ban on publishing juror names, but affirm the ban on juror contact, at least until the retrial.

The court stated: “Counsel should not receive pretrial insights into the juror deliberations from the first trial and that no less restrictive alternative than barring juror interviews until completion of the trial will achieve that objective.”

Chief Justice Deborah T. Poritz and Justice Virginia Long dissented, finding that both portions of the order infringed on the press’ rights.

Warren W. Faulk, the papers’ attorney, said the newspaper company would wait for the court’s written opinion before deciding whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The papers argued that both restrictions were violations of the First Amendment.

(State v. Neulander, In re Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc.) AG

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© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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