Newspaper Sues Judge for Right to Speak to Jurors Post-Trial

Providence, R.I. (CN) – The Providence Journal took its fight against Judge Netti Vogel and the Rhode Island Superior Court to federal court Thursday, seeking confirmation that a judge cannot prohibit the media from contacting jurors post-trial.

Vogel is at the center of the suit after she told her courtroom, “No one… is permitted to contact my jurors…. I don’t allow people to contact my jurors,” at the end of a murder trial on April 6 that convicted a local man of second-degree murder in the 2013 death of his 10-year-old daughter.

In its newly filed complaint in Rhode Island District Court, the Providence Journal seeks a declaration that Judge Vogel cannot prohibit the media from contacting jurors. It also seeks a ruling declaring the public is entitled to juror information, which should be made available during normal business hours.

Providence Journal reporter Katie Mulvaney covered the trial and knew Judge Vogel’s statements had “the full force and effect of an order of the Court,” according to the complaint. However, “no findings were made on the record as justification for the Court’s prohibition of post-verdict press access to the jurors,” the complaint states.

The Providence Journal originally filed a complaint against Rhode Island Superior Court on April 26, alleging Judge Vogel violated the First Amendment by barring everyone from contacting the jurors.

Judge Vogel’s order was vacated the following week, but Vogel refused to release the jurors’ information to the publication. Instead, Vogel sent a letter to the jurors asking them to contact the court if anyone wanted to be put in touch with the Providence Journal.

The publication claims this only exacerbated the First Amendment violations by making the court a gatekeeper to the press and chilling a juror’s willingness to be interviewed.

The court released the jurors’ information on May 10, just days before the Providence Journal’s emergency motion. Access to this information, however, was limited to two days a week, the two days that a jury pool is convened at the Jury Commissioner’s Office.

William O’Gara of Pannone Lopes Devereaux & O’Gara represents the publication.

Rhode Island Jury Commissioner Eugene J. McCaffrey III is also listed as a defendant in the complaint.

 

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