Judge Delays Decision on Media Access to Jury Case

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (CN) – The Providence Journal’s request for the Providence Superior Court to send a letter to jurors correcting how they should handle interactions with the media has been tabled for a few weeks, a judge said Monday.

“I don’t disagree with either party that there are larger issues here,” Judge Maureen Keough said to five attorneys and even less spectators in the sundrenched Newport courtroom, “but I’m not going to give a decision today.”

Ultimately, she said she found the heart of the matter behind the emergency motion the newspaper filed had already been addressed, and the additional concerns would be best addressed in depth at a later time.

The Providence Journal filed suit against the court on April 25, alleging Judge Netti Vogel violated the First Amendment by barring everyone from contacting jurors who served on a murder trial. A week later, she vacated the ban.

The Providence Journal received the jurors’ information on May 10, but Zachary Kleinsasser of Greenberg Traurig who represents the publication, claims this wasn’t the newspaper’s only concern.

“This case is not moot,” Kleinsasser said, “We’re halfway there.”

He told the court that the newspaper learned the court had sent letters to the jurors, directing them to contact Judge Vogel if anyone wanted to reach the media.

Kleinsasser wanted a new letter sent to jurors eliminating the court as a “gatekeeper” to the press before the man the jurors convicted is sentenced on May 18.

A ruling on the public access to the master jury list also still remained, Kleinsasser said. Though the court released jurors’ information, the newspaper does not have unrestricted access to the jury pool, and it is entitled to a judiciary decree should this happen again, according to Kleinsasser.

Judge Keough was not persuaded these were urgent issues, as the paper now has access to jurors.

“We hope the judge will faithfully apply the constitutional First Amendment analysis,” Kleinsasser said of the outcome.

The parties will reconvene on June 1.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, the New England First Amendment Coalition, the New England Newspaper and Press Association Inc. and the Rhode Island Press Association came out in support of The Providence Journal’s lawsuit.

The jury convicted Jorge DePina of second-degree murder in the 2013 death of his 10-year-old daughter Aleida, who died of a perforated bowel caused by blunt force trauma. The verdict came on April 6, one day after the 3-week trial ended.

Marc Desisto from Desisto Law represented the Providence Superior Court and declined to comment on the hearing as the case is still ongoing.

Katie Mulvaney, the Providence Journal reporter who covered the murder trial and reported Judge Vogel’s ban, was also in attendance and declined an interview for the same reason.

 

 

 

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