NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · OREGON · Secret Courts · May 5, 2006
Jury pool data does not have to be released
May 5, 2006 · The public does not have a right to jury pool records, the Supreme Court of Oregon decided April 27, ruling that an appellate court failed to recognize that compiling jury pool data is not a judicial proceeding and therefore not constitutionally required to be released.
Source lists, master lists, jury term lists and other data compiled to assemble jury pools need not be public because it is a government work product, the five-judge panel unanimously ruled.
Although historically “trials, including the process of selecting particular jurors at the threshold of trial, were open to the public, the process of selecting potential jurors has never been open in that way,” Justice W. Michael Gillette wrote for the court.
Rose Jade, executive director of the Jury Service Resource Center (JRSC), one of the three plaintiffs in the case, called the court’s decision “incredibly flawed.”
“The U.S. Supreme Court has said when you give people a right, that presumes an opportunity to vindicate that right,” Jade said. “If the public has a right to a jury drawn from a fair cross section of the community, but there’s never any way for a litigant to prove that right, it’s essentially nonexistent and unenforceable, and that’s a violation of due process and equal protection.”
The plaintiffs requested jury pool information from the Oregon Judicial Department, which uses the data to compile the lists from which trial juries are chosen. When their request was denied, the three plaintiffs consolidated their claims in Marion County Circuit Court in Salem, which dismissed their case. The Court of Appeals of Oregon reversed in April 2005, finding a First Amendment right to jury pool data.
The high court, however, rejected the appellate court’s conclusion that jury selection traditionally has been an open process, ruling that it failed to recognize the difference between selecting a jury from a jury pool and compiling preliminary or tentative lists that may lead to the final list.
The appellate court “mistook access to a public trial for access to government information,” the high court ruled, relying on two U.S. Supreme Court decisions concerning access to executive branch files. “[P]laintiffs here do not assert a right to view a [judicial] process, such as a trial, but instead demand to see a work product that government employees have created pursuant to statutory directive.”
The high court cursorily dismissed the plaintiffs’ arguments under the Oregon Public Records Law and the Oregon Constitution, including the free speech and open courts provisions, agreeing with the appellate court’s reasons for rejecting them.
The plaintiffs sought state jury pool data for different reasons. JSRC sued to challenge a 2001 state law limiting access to jury pool data to litigants who already have evidence to challenge the accuracy of jury pool data. “Our position is, if you can’t get access to the jury lists to begin with, you can never support a challenge to the accuracy of the jury lists,” Jade said.
JSRC’s concern about the accuracy of the state’s jury pool lists springs in part from discovering that a Lincoln County clerk was deleting every individual she believed was too old to be on the jury pool list. No one had questioned her decision to do that or had pointed out to her that it violated the state law not to discriminate against potential jurors based on factors such as age, gender and ethnicity.
Plaintiff David Shannon is researching the state’s jury pool selection process, according to the high court decision. And plaintiff Robert Paul Langley Jr., who was sentenced Feb. 3 for a 1987 Salem murder, is awaiting retrial of the penalty phase of his case.
(Jury Service Resource Center v. Muniz; Jury Service counsel: Rose Jade, Newport, Ore.) — SB