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Reporters convicted of contempt of court for contacting jurors

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    NMU         NEW JERSEY         Prior Restraints         Jun 17, 2002    

Reporters convicted of contempt of court for contacting jurors

  • A New Jersey judge faulted four reporters for The Philadelphia Inquirer for violating an order from a trial judge, criticizing them for thinking newsgathering “is superior to a fair and reasonable judicial process.”

Four reporters for The Philadelphia Inquirer were found guilty of contempt of court today for violating an order that barred the press from contacting or identifying jurors in the murder trial of Rabbi Fred Neulander.

The murder trial judge, Superior Court Judge Linda Baxter, had issued an order not to “contact or attempt to interview” any members of the jury. The order also stated that “neither the identity nor descriptions that would reasonably identify any juror may be publicized.”

Three reporters, George Anastasia, Dwight Ott and Emilie Lounsberry, were convicted because they attempted to contact jurors in the trial. Anastasia, Ott and Lounsberry, along with a fourth reporter, Joseph A. Gambardello, were convicted of violating the order not to identify any juror.

Superior Court Judge Theodore Z. Davis found the reporters guilty and, in his opinion, reproached the reporters.

“The conduct of the media respondents imply that they are of the opinion that their haste to disseminate news … is superior to a fair and reasonable judicial process, which has doors of emergency readily available to all members of the public,” Davis wrote. “The respondents’ arrogance and contumacious conduct cannot by this court be swallowed and digested.”

Sentencing is scheduled for Thursday.

The Inquirer reported that Deputy Managing Editor Hank Klibanoff said: “The testimony I heard in this case showed that Inquirer reporters acted courteously, honestly and in the highest journalistic traditions in their reporting following the Neulander trial.

“They pursued a story of genuine public importance and concern, including whether one of the jurors in the New Jersey case was, in fact, a Philadelphia resident. The reporters did their jobs professionally, and we remain steadfast in our support of them.”

(New Jersey v. Anastasia, et al.) AG

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