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Federal judge keeps identities of police abuse jurors anonymous

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  1. Court Access

    NMU         NEW YORK         Secret Courts         Sep 13, 2002    

Federal judge keeps identities of police abuse jurors anonymous

  • The New York Times lost its attempt to learn the names of jurors in the retrial of the former police officer accused of torturing Haitian immigrant Abner Louima.

More than 300 New Yorkers streamed into Brooklyn federal court Sept. 9 for jury selection in the police brutality case against former New York police officer Charles Schwarz. But the identity of the jury ultimately selected will remain a mystery to the public.

Last week, New York federal judge Reena Raggi rejected The New York Times’ motion seeking the release of names and addresses of jurors selected for the retrial of Schwarz.

In its brief to the court the newspaper argued that “an anonymous [jury] is a rare exception to the presumption of openness.”

“It is important that anonymous juries are not automatic and are challenged by the media,” said David McCraw, counsel for The New York Times. Historically, the identity of jurors is known, he argued.

“In particularly difficult cases, it is important for the jury to explain how it arrived at its decision” and to show the public that it was “not persuaded by improper influences,” he said.

This is the fourth trial of former police officer Schwarz. While jurors in the previous Schwarz trials were anonymous, two jurors have come forward with conflicting accounts of what occurred during jury deliberations. Because the names of other jurors are not known, reporters are unable to verify the veracity of these accounts.

“Disclosure [of jurors] promotes responsibility,” said McCraw. “Part of the system is being accountable,” he said.

While the court did not issue a written opinion, in her Sept. 4 ruling from the bench, Raggi found that anonymity is appropriate where intense and divisive public opinion exists and where jurors have continuing safety concerns.

Schwartz was accused of holding down handcuffed Haitian immigrant Abner Louima while another police officer sodomized him with a wooden broom on August 9, 1997.

As the Times argued, “speculative fears, including those of media coverage, are not enough to warrant an anonymous jury; there must be real evidence that a juror’s safety and/or her ability to make unbiased decision with no fear of retaliation must be imperiled.”

While the racial overtones of the Schwartz case caused public protest five years ago, “the mood of the city has changed,” said McCraw.

(United States v. Schwarz; Media counsel: David McCraw and George Freeman, The New York Times Company, New York, N.Y.) ST

© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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