Journalists have historically considered the jurors part of the story when covering court cases. Most would agree interviewing jurors enhances the coverage of verdicts because their perspective adds insight to the case. Similarly, part of the story can turn on the jurors themselves. In the O.J. Simpson murder and Rodney King beating cases, for example, the racial composition of the jury was itself the subject of controversy, with some arguing that it even determined the outcome of the case.
There is a creeping trend by courts, however, to empanel “anonymous juries,” which is part of a larger trend toward secrecy in the courts. Court secrecy hinders a journalist’s ability to collect all the facts and can also adversely affect the fairness of the judicial system. When not subject to public scrutiny, courts, jurors or litigants could more easily engage in improprieties.
Linda Lightfoot, editor of The Advocate in Baton Rouge, La., has struggled recently with the effect of juror anonymity in the corruption trial of former governor Edwin Edwards. She summed up the problem nicely: “History loses.”
Edwards, a four-term governor, was arguably the most influential political figure in state history since Huey Long, but he has also faced numerous charges of corruption.