The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and several other media organizations filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court today, urging review of a New Jersey Supreme Court decision that upheld a judge’s right to prohibit post-trial juror interviews by the press.
“The Neulander case highlights a puzzling trend toward prior restraints that we’ve seen from various courts over the past couple of years,” said Lucy A. Dalglish, Reporters Committee Executive Director. “We hope the Supreme Court will use this case as an opportunity to reinforce the First Amendment rights of journalists and jurors.”
The case involved Fred Neulander, a rabbi and former community leader, who was accused of murdering his wife in Camden County, New Jersey. Neulander faced the death penalty and the televised trial attracted widespread publicity. When the first trial ended in a hung jury in November 2001, the judge ordered that journalists could not contact or interview discharged jurors.
The Philadelphia Inquirer challenged the court’s order and lost at the trial court level. On appeal, the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s decision and expanded the order to prohibit communications with the press initiated by the discharged jurors. It reasoned that it was necessary to ban juror interviews to prevent the prosecution from obtaining an unfair advantage in the retrial of the defendant by the disclosure of information regarding the jury’s deliberations. The court’s order banning juror interviews remained in effect until after Neulander’s retrial and conviction one year later.
The media brief urged the U.S. Supreme Court to accept the Inquirer’s petition for review of the case. The brief contends that the court’s order prohibiting juror interviews was an unconstitutional prior restraint that “severely restricts the First Amendment rights of the press and limits the exchange of information about the administration of justice in our society.” The brief also points out that the court’s order is contrary to the First Amendment right to open public trials and the public’s right to receive information.
The brief was joined by The American Society of Newspaper Editors, CBS Broadcasting Inc., Courtroom Television Network LLC, Gannett Co., Inc., National Broadcasting Company, Inc., the New Jersey Press Association, The New York Times Company, the Newspaper Association of America, The Radio-Television News Directors Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, and The Washington Post Company. It is available from the Reporter’s Committee’s Web site at www.rcfp.org.