Should the Cosby Jurors’ Names Stay Secret?
Posted May 1, 2018 8:16 p.m. EDT
NORRISTOWN, Pa. — The judge who presided at Bill Cosby’s criminal trial deferred a decision at a hearing Tuesday about whether to release the names of the jurors who convicted Cosby of sexual assault last week, saying he had to balance legal precedent with his strong desire to protect their privacy.
The names of jurors are typically public in Pennsylvania, and Judge Steven T. O’Neill, who also presided at Cosby’s first trial last summer, had released names then after that case ended in a mistrial.
But O’Neill seemed pained Tuesday at the prospect of releasing the names this time, suggesting that even now, members of the media had figured out their identities and approached them.
“Somebody disclosed those names to media outlets, I don’t know who,” the judge said. “I find it curious that each and every one had the media on their front lawns, harassing them and calling them up.”
The judge, who sits in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas, said he will soon rule on the request by media organizations including The New York Times for the immediate release of the names. He did not say when the order would be issued.
The media organizations had argued that an open process in which jurors are named helps the public affirm the impartiality of the judicial proceedings. Paul Safier, a Philadelphia lawyer representing The Times and other media groups, said the First Amendment requires that the names be released unless there are special concerns such as threats of violence against jurors.
“Unless there are some particularized privacy concerns, it can’t overcome the First Amendment rights,” he said.
Safier said he was not aware that some media outlets had all the jurors’ names. “There are certainly many intervenors who do not have the names,” he said.
The jury on Monday issued a joint statement on its deliberations, including a plea to be left alone.
“I think they’ve made it known that they don’t want to talk to people,” the judge said.
One juror, Harrison Snyder, 22, spoke publicly after the trial, giving an interview to ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Monday in which he said jurors based their decision purely on evidence produced in the courtroom, and not on outside factors such as the #MeToo movement.
Cosby was found guilty of three felony counts in connection with an assault on Andrea Constand in 2004. A Temple University employee at the time, she said she saw Cosby, a prominent alumnus, as a mentor. His defense team pledged to appeal the conviction.
The judge said he had worked hard during the 2 1/2-week trial to protect jurors’ anonymity in light of the intense media interest in the case, and felt strongly that it should be preserved after the verdict if legally possible.
Adrienne Jappe, a lawyer for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, argued that the names should not be released. She said the need for privacy outweighed a ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that jurors’ names should be made public under the First Amendment of the Constitution. That ruling, she said, provided only a “qualified” right to publication of the names.
Jappe said that the jurors’ statement that “we are anxious to return to our normal lives” was a clear sign of their desire for privacy.