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Jury Info Access Affirmed in MA Murder Trial

(CN) - Jury details must be made available to the public and the press after any criminal trial verdict, absent specific safety concerns, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled.

The Jan. 27 decision comes in a bid by the Boston Globe for information on last year's conviction of Nathaniel Fujita for the gruesome murder of his former high school girlfriend, Lauren Astley.

Reporters wanted the names and addresses of the jurors who served in Fujita's trial to see if they would be willing to give an interview after the verdict.

They didn't get what they wanted, however, because the trial judge first sent the jury members letters asking if they would be "amenable" to speaking the press. Only the names of jurors who answered affirmatively were given to the newspaper.

The Globe appealed, and the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that "the public's long-term interest in maintaining an open judicial process" requires that a list of jurors who rendered a verdict in a criminal case be made available to the public the same way other court records are available.

"Only on a judicial finding of good cause, which may include a risk of harm to the jurors or to the integrity of their service, may such a list be withheld," Justice Robert Cordy wrote for the court.

A juror's personal aversion to speaking to the media may not factor into the decision, the court expressly found.

Historically, a list of jurors has been included in the court's case file. Various juror lists were created in the Fujita case, but some were destroyed at the end of the trial, and others did not include an address.

"It is apparent that there is inconsistency in the current practice of retaining juror lists, a matter of significant public and systemic importance," Cordy said.

The judge added: "Consequently, we take this opportunity to direct that a list of the names of jurors empanelled in any criminal case be included in the court file of the case, no later than at the completion of the trial."

Justice Ralph Gants concurred with the majority that the names of jurors should be available to the public, but said the court should not be required to create a list.

"If the Globe Newspaper Company, Inc., wished to learn the names of the jurors, it, like any person, could have ordered a transcript of the jury empanelment, even an expedited transcript, and obtained the names from that transcript," Gants said.

An expedited transcript may cost hundreds of dollars.

Nevertheless, the expense of ordering a transcript does not give rise to a constitutional right of public access to the information for free, Gants said.

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