TEXAS — A Texas newspaper said it plans to appeal a U.S. district court order prohibiting the media from contacting jurors in a high profile money laundering case.
The Brownsville Herald reported that in early June, a jury convicted two former American Express Bank International employees in U.S. District Court in Houston on charges that they laundered $30 million of drug money.
When he dismissed the jury, Judge Filemon Vela issued an order prohibiting the media from contacting the jury without his permission.
Later that week, the paper filed a written protest with the judge arguing that the order violated its right of access to the jurors.
That prompted Vela to send letters, in mid- June, to the jurors explaining that he would allow the media to contact them only if they returned the letter and checked a box on it saying, “It is my wish to be interviewed.” Vela said that although First Amendment protections are “sacrosanct,” he had the power to ensure the privacy and security of the jurors and to prevent their harassment.
Herald attorney Hugh Lowe said that if juror security was an issue, the judge could have taken steps to conceal their identities before the trial began, according to the Associated Press.
Reporter Dane Schiller said the jury list is already public. “I have the jury list in my hand and the only reason I can’t do my job is because the judge said no.”
The paper plans to appeal Vela’s order prohibiting the media from contacting the jurors to the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans (5th Cir.).
(U.S. v. Giraldi and Reategui; Media Counsel: Hugh Lowe, Austin)
The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.