Friday, March 23, 2001

Post-trial juror gag overruled

Ky. Supreme Court decision unanimous

By Mark R. Chellgren
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — A judge cannot put jurors off-limits to reporters or anyone else after a trial has ended, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

        The decision overturned what amounted to a gag order imposed by Whitley County Circuit Court Judge Paul Braden on anyone trying to talk to the jurors who convicted Larry Osborne in December 1998 of killing an elderly couple a year earlier. Mr. Osborne was sentenced to death, the first capital murder trial in the county in a half-century.

        More than a year after the trial, a reporter for the Louisville Courier-Journal contacted a juror, who refused to comment and referred to Judge Braden's order. The newspaper challenged the order and said there should be a hearing to demonstrate how the order could restrict the paper's First Amendment rights to gather news.

        In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court said judges have wide latitude to protect jurors from contact by outsiders during trial. After a trial, however, a judge loses most authority.

        For any similar orders in the future, Justice Donald Wintersheimer said, the government must prove a compelling interest to restrict access. “The findings must demonstrate a clear and present danger to the privacy of the jurors,” Justice Wintersheimer wrote.

        Otherwise, Justice Wintersheimer said, there is a simple solution for any juror who does not wish to talk about the experience.

        “It is abundantly clear that if a juror does not wish to communicate with another individual, such juror is not required to do so,” Justice Wintersheimer said. “The desire not to communicate is best achieved by simply refusing to talk.”


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