Morgan and Neff v. Superior Court (D2 7.20.21)

Local newspaper reporters in Cochise County sought the names of jurors who recently served on two criminal trials. They enlist the support of a clinical professor and two law students to represent them. They argue the innominate jury system violates the First Amendment and Arizona law. Trial court denied their request for juror identity, and they file a special action. Jurisdiction is accepted, but relief is denied.

It is unclear what Arizona law the reporters rely upon. The court begins by citing Arizona statutes and rules protecting juror information. None support the reporters. The court then addresses the First Amendment. The reporters argue past historical practice in Cochise County of allowing access and this experience demonstrates a First Amendment right of access. The court rejects this concluding that a historical experience test does not look at the particular practice of one jurisdiction but the experience throughout the United States. The court finds a split of authority on this point, and distinguishes case law discussing the right of access with other aspects of the jury system including public trial and the voir dire process. The court stresses the potential harm in mandating the disclosure of juror names including subjecting jurors to public unwanted media attention, harassment, embarrassment, or danger. Such disclosure would also elevate fair-trial concerns for defendants in high-profile cases. “The danger of jurors being exposed to information or questions about the case, concerns about their safety or reputation as a result of their vote, and violations of their privacy may create violations of due process.” The court points in the right direction. Protecting jurors’ privacy and the rights of an accused to a fair trial ranks higher than newspaper reporters selling information.

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