The Legal’s Request for Civil Juror Information Denied

Earlier this year, The Legal received a letter from a reader — and local attorney — who demanded to know why we have not attempted to contact jurors when writing about civil trials that have gone through to verdict.

The reader explained that as a practitioner, he would be far more interested in what the jurors have to say about a case post-verdict than what the lawyers who tried it do.

We thus began to envision a regular feature in which, following a civil trial that results in a verdict, we would contact the case's jurors and highlight their quotes in stories that also rely on traditional sources of information, such as documents filed with the court and interviews with lawyers and (if necessary) court officials.

Soon thereafter, The Legal was preparing a story about a verdict in a workplace injury case tried in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, and thought it presented a good opportunity to give our tentative feature idea a first run.

We contacted a number of First Judicial District officials — including the case's trial judge and the Philadelphia court system's jury commissioner — and received conflicting answers as to the press's right to access the requested information.

Ultimately, we sent a formal request to FJD President Judge C. Darnell Jones II with copies forwarded to the relevant members of court administration.

In a letter dated June 8, Jones wrote that our request had been denied. He explained that he had brought the matter up at a recent meeting of the FJD's Board of Judges — the term for all Philadelphia common pleas judges — and that The Legal's request had met with unanimous opposition.

"Although the overriding concerns are multiple," Jones wrote, "the board is particularly concerned with juror safety, a perceived violation of juror privacy and the potentially 'chilling effect' the release of such information could have on citizen participation on jury panels."

The Legal has decided not to litigate the matter.

An attempt to gain access to the information through another avenue was not fruitful: the Controller's Office of Philadelphia informed us that although it regularly audits payments made to those who have served as jurors, it does not track those payments according to case identification number or trial judge.

Despite these setbacks, we at The Legal still hope to, at some point in the future, be able to provide our readers with insights from jurors who have participated in civil trials that have gone through to verdict.

–Asher Hawkins, Staff Reporter 

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