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Privacy Protection for Jurors

By: Gerri L. Elder

It is probably safe to say that no one enjoys jury duty.

When the notice comes, some people simply groan and accept it, while others may try to find a way to get out of it.

It’s certainly no fun to be removed from normal life, and in some cases sequestered and closed up in a room with strangers to talk about some unpleasant legal situation. Cases can go on and on for an undetermined amount of time and the pay isn’t great either. No small wonder that few people are particularly happy to receive a jury summons.

An article by Reason Online made the case for making jury duty anonymous – and it only makes sense.

Case In Point

Ruth Jordan is a 79-year-old divorced woman who was selected to serve on the jury in the trial of Tyco International executives Dennis Kozlowski and Mark Swartz.

When Jordan allegedly made a sympathetic signal to defense lawyers, her name and photo was spread around the world by the media and she was ridiculed in New York newspapers and called paranoid, stingy and snobbish.

All of this happened while the trial was underway.

The Wall Street Journal’s website and the New York Post got the information about Jordan out to the public. After the media latched onto the story, Jordan received a hostile anonymous phone call and letter that she found disturbing.

This led to Judge Michael Obus declaring a mistrial.

Obus made a point of declaring that Jordan had done nothing wrong. The abuse she suffered after the media publicly attacked her was completely unwarranted.

Obus directed his frustration towards the media for publishing Jordan’s identity.

So in this case, the judge was irritated that a juror’s privacy was not respected. However, he had not sealed the juror information, and therefore it was – as is in most cases – available to the public.

The situation that Jordan found herself in illustrates the need for juror information to be protected and kept private in every case.

When a person fulfills their civic duty by voting, privacy is guaranteed. Since jury duty is something a person cannot easily get out of, and most people don’t even try to escape from since they consider it their civic duty, why shouldn’t jurors be entitled to privacy?

Jury Panel Selection Process

When a jury panel is selected, jurors are often asked about intimate personal details about their lives. It can be uncomfortable and embarrassing from the very start.

Then, if selected to serve on a jury, they can be exposed to graphic details and gruesome exhibits relating to the case. All of this while potentially being sequestered and removed from their family and loved ones for extended periods of time.

At least jurors should be entitled to feel secure that their personal information will not be splashed across the front pages of newspapers. However, there is no such guarantee in most cases, and jurors are completely vulnerable to ridicule and even retribution.

The names of potential jurors are public record, regardless of whether or not that may put them in danger.

There is also the issue of potential identity theft for jury pools. The information collected from potential jurors lists their names, addresses, employers, immigration status, criminal history and even some financial information all in a single file.

This could be an identity thief’s dream, and it is all in the public domain with no restrictions on public access.

The media insists that access to jurors’ names is important to make sure that jurors are held accountable for their decisions. However, jurors are private citizens serving a civic duty and not government officials.

Perhaps if juror information was kept confidential, there would not be such reluctance for jurors to serve. While it still would not make jury duty a pleasant experience, a guarantee of privacy would go a long way towards peace and safety.