New Rule for Jurors: Don’t listen to media coverage about the case you’re serving on and if you do, let a judge know.
Oh? That’s not so new, you say? Well, welcome to CT, where yesterday is 1950 and tomorrow might be the landing on the moon.
Roughly 30 years after the invention of the internet and about 15 years after the invention of internet comments, the CT Supreme Court has issued an order [PDF] directing all trial court judges to instruct jurors after they’re selected that they have to avoid all media coverage.
This all came about in a civil case that was really contentious 1 and the New York Times published an in-depth article about the case. The plaintiff got mad and asked to poll 2 the jury if anyone had read it. But by this time the jury was already seated, because in CT, in civil trials, the judge doesn’t sit on the bench for jury selection. Seriously. He’s got other “judicial business” to attend to, while civil lawyers civilly agree on jurors. Bizarre. Anyway. The judge refused because, I don’t know. 3
The Supreme Court, while not agreeing that the trial court should have inquired into whether anyone was exposed to the media, nonetheless said that going forward trial courts should give an instruction to disregard the media and inquire into it, if brought to their attention. Because logic.
So they exercise their supervisory authority, which means, “we decree”:
Pursuant to our supervisory authority, we now direct all trial judges in this state to enforce the following policy when presiding over a jury trial: immediately after each juror is selected, he or she must be instructed by the court, either orally or in a written order from the presiding judge, which the juror must read and sign before leaving the courthouse, that: (1) his or her sworn duty as a juror will be to decide the factual issues of the case for which he or she has been selected based only upon the evidence presented at trial; (2) consistent with that duty, he or she must avoid all publicity about the case and all communications to or from anyone about the case or any issues arising in it; and (3) if he or she is exposed to any such publicity or communications despite his or her best efforts to follow this instruction to avoid it, he or she must immediately inform the court about the exposure in writing, without advising any other jurors about the fact or the nature of the exposure, so that the court can follow up, as necessary, with him or her and/or other jurors, to protect the parties’ right to a fair trial.
Welcome to 2005.
- See what I did there? ↩
- Ask. ↩
- Here’s the colloquy: ‘‘The Court: What is your authority for my interrogating the jury on this one particular reference in the media?
‘‘The Plaintiff’s Counsel: They were instructed not to read it.
‘‘The Court: They were. Okay. Well, I expect that if it comes to their attention that somebody has read it, then we’ll be hearing about it.
‘‘The Plaintiff’s Counsel: Well, how are we going to hear about it, unless we ask?
‘‘The Court: I would expect that any jurors might report misconduct. That’s usually the way we hear about it.
‘‘The Plaintiff’s Counsel: So the court is not going to ask them if they’ve—
“The Court: I’m not inclined to do so, but you’re standing up here as the plaintiff’s attorney and you’re not representing to me that everybody has suggested that this is the proper thing to do. . . . Now, look, if you have an agreement and you came to me and you said: ‘We’ve agreed upon this procedure. This is what we want to do with respect to the article.’ Then I might be willing to listen. But the jurors are here. We’re ready to hear evidence. If you don’t have a plan, we’re not putting one together at the last moment. . . .
‘‘The Plaintiff’s Counsel: Judge, with all deference to you, I don’t think we need agreement of counsel on—
‘‘The Court: Well, you haven’t convinced me that in light of the nature of the article, that there’s any need to make an inquiry.’’ (Emphasis added.)
(Ed. Note: This, apparently, is what passes for failing to preserve the issue in CT, by the way.) ↩