The news media will be excluded from the questioning of prospective jurors in the Martha Stewart obstruction-of-justice trial, which begins on Tuesday. The Washington Post says that U.S. District Judge Miriam Cedarbaum said jury candidates might be less candid about biases and personal information if reporters are present.
Stewart is charged with lying about her December 2001 sale of ImClone Systems Inc. stock before the company announced that its cancer drug had run into regulatory trouble.
The Post says keeping jurors’ names secret is not unusual in high-profile cases, particularly in mob or terrorism prosecutions in which the intimidation of jurors could be an issue. And some courts have a standard policy of requiring jurors to answer questions at the bench with a white-noise machine running so that only the judge and the lawyers can hear their responses.
Legal experts said it is unusual for a judge to bar reporters from jury selection and then release transcripts a day later with the names of potential jurors deleted, as Cedarbaum plans to do. Basing the decision on expected media coverage is also rare.
“Trials are supposed to be public,” said New York Law School professor Randolph N. Jonakait. He added that “one of the legal areas that has not been explored is the privacy rights of jurors.”
One expert said the ruling could violate the constitutional guarantees of a free press and the right to open trials. “All we have here is a high-profile trial and the possibility that a juror . . . might alter their candor,” said University of Richmond law school Prof. Rodney A. Smolla. “That’s not a reason in and of itself to conduct proceedings behind closed doors.”
The judge, who has barred the media from attempting to contact potential jurors, also ordered the news organizations not to publish the names or likenesses of potential jurors.