A North Dakota district judge wrongly refused to release the names of jurors after they convicted a man of murder last year, the state Supreme Court has ruled.
Finding Judge John Paulson's rationale — that he'd promised not to identify the jurors — "insufficient to overcome the presumption of public access," the high court unanimously ordered the judge to alert the jurors and then release their names.
The Forum newspaper had asked the court to weigh in after Paulson rejected its request for the names of jurors in the trial of Moe Gibbs.
He is serving life in prison for the murder of university student Mindy Morgenstern.
In a 16-page decision and concurring opinion, the court agreed with Paulson that the public right of access has to be balanced against a defendant's fair trial rights, and a juror's privacy.
But in this case the judge ignored a widely recognized public right to know post-trial who sat on a jury, except for in narrowly tailored and clearly articulated situations — such as, when a need arises to protect a juror's safety or privacy.
Paulson's refusal to release the jury questionnaires used in the Gibbs case was also overturned, to a point. The court ordered him to take the issue up again with an eye toward redacting sensitive portions, such as birth dates and addresses, rather than sealing the records entirely.