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News groups want access to Tyco juror documents

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News groups want access to Tyco juror documents

  • On the heels of a widely-publicized mistrial, the media seek to unseal documents relating to “Juror No. 4.”

April 5, 2004 — A coalition of nine media organizations filed a motion today to unseal transcripts of closed proceedings relating to Judge Michael Obus’s declaration of a mistrial in the criminal prosecution of two former Tyco International Ltd. executives.

The motion, which will be heard Wednesday, was signed by The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Associated Press, NBC, and other leading news groups.

They assert that both the First Amendment and New York state law require Obus to release transcripts of closed proceedings he held in connection with his decision to terminate proceedings after a six-month trial and 12 days of jury deliberations. The requested materials include transcripts of Obus’s March 29 and April 2 interviews of Ruth Jordan, the so-called “Juror No. 4,” whose gestures in court prompted a media uproar.

On March 26, Jordan, a 79-year old retired schoolteacher, made what some observers interpreted as an “O.K.” hand gesture in the direction of the defendants, Tyco executives L. Dennis Kozlowski and Mark Swartz. That afternoon, The Wall Street Journal published a story in its online edition that identified Jordan by name — an unusual, but not illegal, move.

The New York Post followed suit, running a sketch of Jordan’s gesture on its March 27 cover, under the headline “Ms. Trial.” The Post also published Jordan’s name, disclosed details of her personal life, and nicknamed her “Holdout Granny.”

After several more days of jury deliberation amid intense media scrutiny, Obus declared a mistrial last Friday. He reportedly did so after Jordan told him in a private session that she had received a threatening letter. Obus also heard arguments from the parties in a closed proceeding.

The news groups argue that any justification for the closure has passed, now that the jury has been discharged.

“The fact of the mistrial is already well known, as is the resultant media focus on the jury and on particular jurors,” the media’s brief points out. “Continued sealing of the transcripts of the [closed] proceedings cannot change the public’s knowledge as to these facts.”

Obus made no finding that publication of the details of jury deliberations could affect a future trial of the defendants, though the New York district attorney has said they will be re-tried. Already, many of the jurors have spoken publicly about the case, including one who authored a first-person account in Time magazine.

Although Obus chastised the media for printing Jordan’s name while proceedings were still pending, The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post defended their decisions.

“The fact remains that juror number 4, Ms. Jordan, drew attention to herself through her own behavior in open court,” said Brigitte Trafford, a spokesperson for the Journal , in a written statement.

Likewise, the New York Post ‘s editor-in-chief, Col Allan, told The New York Times, “By her extraordinary behavior — signaling her thoughts to the defendant — the juror created public interest in her identity.”

Other publications, such as The Washington Post and The New York Times, did not disclose Jordan’s name until after the mistrial was declared. The Post said in a story today that it has a policy against revealing a juror’s name while proceedings are pending.

(New York v. Kozlowski; New York v. Swartz; Media Intervenors’ Counsel: Victor A. Kovner and Carolyn K. Foley, Davis Wright & Tremaine, New York) JM

© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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