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Inquirer reporters await ruling after contempt trial concludes

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    NMU         NEW JERSEY         Prior Restraints         May 29, 2002    

Inquirer reporters await ruling after contempt trial concludes

  • A New Jersey judge will determine whether reporters from the Philadelphia newspaper should face fines and jail time after contacting jurors from a highly publicized murder trial.

Contempt proceedings are currently pending against four Philadelphia Inquirer reporters accused of contacting jurors after the end of the Rabbi Fred Neulander murder trial in violation of a court order.

Inquirer reporters George Anastasia, Joseph A. Gambardello, Emilie Lounsberry and Dwight Ott have been charged with contempt for allegedly violating an order from Superior Court Judge Linda G. Baxter. Baxter’s order barred reporters from contacting any of the jurors who served in the Neulander case after it ended in a mistrial last November. Neulander is expected to be retried in August.

Baxter’s original order also prohibited reporters from publishing the name of any juror, but on April 22 the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that part of the order was unconstitutional. Prosecutors still seek to have the reporters convicted for contempt because the order was pending when the Inquirer printed the name of a juror.

Superior Court Judge Theodore Z. Davis will decide whether the reporters are guilty. The trial was held last week.

The prosecutors argued that the reporters violated the order by publishing the name of a juror, Colleen Darnell. The article, published on Nov. 16, alleged that Darnell had a Philadelphia address and might not have been a resident of New Jersey when the trial took place. A law required jurors in the trial to be residents of Camden County, N.J.

Darnell, her stepfather and two other jurors testified about efforts by Inquirer reporters to contact them. The jurors said Lounsberry mailed letters to them, expressing an interest in interviewing any juror who wanted to talk.

The jurors also testified that Baxter told them they had the right to speak to the press, but Baxter told them to contact her if they were approached by reporters.

Attorneys for the reporters argued that Baxter’s order did not prevent reporters from letting the jurors know that the paper would be interested in interviews, if the jurors wished to speak. They also argued that the prosecutors did not prove that the reporters knew of Baxter’s order.

If convicted of contempt, the reporters could be subject to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

(New Jersey v. Anastasia, et al.) AG

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© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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