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Ohio Supreme Court Ducks First Amendment Question on Anonymous Juries


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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
7/16/2001


Contacts: Bruce Brown, SPJ First Amendment counsel, 202/861-1660 or bbrown@baker-hostetler.com; Ray Marcano, SPJ president, 937/225-2323 or rmarcano@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS - The Ohio Supreme Court backed away from deciding whether requiring anonymous juries in all civil and criminal cases - a trend the Society of Professional Journalists strongly opposes - violates First Amendment rights.

In the case of State vs. Hill, the court recently said that the issue of anonymous juries had not properly been raised at trial, so no decision could be made. The court went on to say that a review of the rule might be warranted when the question is properly presented.

"We are disappointed because we believed that the issue was ripe for consideration," said Bruce Brown, SPJ First Amendment legal counsel, at Baker & Hostetler in Washington, D.C. "Anonymous juries are a slap in the face of this country's tradition of openness in court proceedings."

In November, the Society joined a friend-of-the-court legal brief - submitted by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press - to argue in State vs. Hill that presumptive secrecy in the court system violates the First Amendment rights of the public and the press. The case involved a murder defendant who has challenged a Fairfield County, Ohio, rule that makes juries presumptively anonymous.

The Society is concerned about the increasing use of anonymous juries, a trend that diminishes the ability of the news media to cover the criminal justice system.

"We sincerely hope the court does decide to review this troubling trend," said SPJ President Ray Marcano, an assistant managing editor at the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News. "Keeping a jury anonymous cripples the public's ability to fully understand how the criminal justice system works."

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