Newspaper Challenges RI Judge’s Ban on Juror Contact

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The Providence Journal is taking to federal court its First Amendment complaint against a Superior Court judge who banned reporters from contacting jurors after a trial, the Journal reports. The newspaper asked a federal judge to clarify and confirm the free press principles governing a reporter’s access to jurors, after lawyers for the newspaper, the court and Judge Netti Vogel could not reach an agreement. The complaint aims to prevent Vogel from impeding the press in the future, noting she made “inaccurate and/or misleading” statements from the bench at the end of the trial intended “to serve as a public rebuke” of the Journal and a reporter “with the purpose of discouraging the newspaper from its pursuit of access to judicial records.”

The controversy began on April 6 when, after a jury had convicted Jorge DePina of second-degree murder in the death of his 10-year-old daughter, Vogel announced that, “No one, no spectator, no one in the spectator section of the courtroom, is permitted to contact my jurors.” The newspaper challenged the directive, and Vogel later withdrew it. The judge later told jurors that if any wanted to be interviewed, they should contact her and she would pass along their contact information to the Journal reporter. The newspaper contends that the judge “impermissibly positioned the court as a gatekeeper between the reporter and the jurors, and undoubtedly had a chilling effect on the jurors’ willingness to be interviewed in violation of the First Amendment.” The newspaper is asking a federal judge to declare that Vogel may not again prohibit the media from contacting jurors “or otherwise impede the jury interview process” after a trial without a “compelling government interest” demonstrated with presented facts.

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