Court: OJ jury questions should have been public
Associated Press Writer
LAS VEGAS (AP) – Jury questionnaires in last year’s O.J. Simpson robbery-kidnapping trial are subject to public disclosure and should not have been kept from the media by the judge, the Nevada Supreme Court has ruled.
In a 6-0 ruling Thursday, the court sided with open records arguments by The Associated Press and Stephens Media LLC, owner of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Attorney Donald Campbell, who represented AP and the Review-Journal in the case, hailed the decision as “a victory for the First Amendment and a victory for every citizen.”
“One of the most critical features of our legal system is public access and open trials,” Campbell said. “This decision reinforces just how important that commitment to full access is.”
The court ordered the release of the blank and completed questionnaires from the Simpson case, but acknowledged the matter is now moot.
Simpson’s trial ended in October 2008, and the former football star was sentenced later that year to nine to 33 years in prison after he and co-defendant Clarence “C.J.” Stewart were convicted of kidnapping and armed robbery in a hotel room confrontation with two sports memorabilia dealers. Stewart was sentenced to 7 1/2 to 27 years.
Both Simpson, 62, and Stewart, 55, are appealing their convictions and sentences. Thursday’s ruling did not address those appeals.
In the 26-page ruling, signed by five other justices, Chief Justice James Hardesty said that questionnaires used in jury selection are presumptively subject to public disclosure, and that judges need specific findings identifying a “countervailing interest to public access” before ruling that closure is appropriate.
The ruling said the court took the case, heard oral arguments last March and issued their Christmas Eve decision to underscore a legal point “for the purpose of providing guidance to the district courts in future criminal cases.”
The state high court said Clark County District Court Judge Jackie Glass was wrong to delay release of blank and completed jury questionnaires at the start of Simpson’s trial in September 2008, and didn’t fix the problem by redacting questionnaires before releasing them after trial.
Glass was off work Thursday and unavailable for comment, a clerk in her court said.
Judges normally are permitted to withhold jurors’ personal information such as Social Security and driver’s license numbers. But the AP and Review-Journal argued that Glass illegally censored without explanation information such as where jurors were born and raised, their parents’ occupations, whether they had children and whether they owned a home.
The attorneys argued that written surveys are simply extensions of open-court questioning known as voir dire.
The court faulted Glass for denying the media a chance to intervene at the time to protect public access in a criminal proceeding.
Glass was wrong to providing a “blanket promise of confidentiality” to jurors and a promise that their answers to questions would be kept “under seal,” the court said.
Glass had said she was withholding the questionnaires because of extraordinary pretrial publicity and fears that someone might try to contact jurors and affect the outcome of the proceedings.
A deputy Nevada state attorney general argued before the high court later that releasing personal information about jurors could hinder future efforts to find people willing to serve on a jury.
“We stress that a ‘naked assertion … without any specific finding of fact’ does not justify closure of the voir dire proceedings,” the justices said.
Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto issued a statement Thursday saying she was “glad to see the Supreme Court provided guidance on this important issue for all other judges in our state.”