Four Reporters Found in Contempt
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CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) _ Four reporters from The Philadelphia Inquirer were found in contempt of court Monday for writing a story in which one juror in the sensational murder trial of a rabbi was interviewed and another was named.
The four could get up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine at sentencing Thursday.
Superior Court Judge Theodore Z. Davis ruled that George Anastasia, Emilie Lounsberry and Dwight Ott contacted jurors after the trial in violation of an order from Superior Court Judge Linda G. Baxter.
Baxter presided over the case of Rabbi Fred J. Neulander, who was accused of arranging his wife’s killing. The case ended in a mistrial in November after the jury deadlocked.
The three reporters were also held in contempt of court along with a fourth, Joseph Gambardello, for publishing the name of a juror after the trial. The jurors’ identities were supposed to be secret.
The four were listed as co-authors of a story exploring whether the jury forewoman actually lived in Pennsylvania rather than New Jersey.
The reporters’ conduct ``strongly suggests an arrogance which should not and must not be judicially digested,″ Davis wrote. ``For to do so would be an abdication of the court’s constitutional responsibility to maintain a viable, fair and operational judicial system.″
Inquirer deputy managing editor Hank Klibanoff said there was no immediate decision on whether to appeal.
``The testimony I heard in this case showed that Inquirer reporters acted courteously, honestly and in the highest journalistic traditions in their reporting following the Neulander trial,″ he said.
Before the trial began, Baxter banned reporters from contacting jurors during or after the trial.
After the article at issue was published, the New Jersey Supreme Court in April ruled that Baxter had the authority to bar reporters from contacting jurors before the verdict, but not afterward.
New Jersey Deputy Attorney General Eric Schweiker had argued that the reporters should be held in contempt because the order was in effect at the time they violated it.
First Amendment experts said that both Baxter’s order and Davis’ decision Monday are a rare and troubling restriction of media freedom.
``It’s unusual to the point of being bizarre,″ said Jonathan Kotler, director of graduate and professional programs at the University of Southern California and a lawyer who frequently represents news organizations in First Amendment cases. ``Normally, what happens is the jurors are told not to talk to the press.″
Monday’s ruling brought to five the number of reporters held in contempt for their reporting on the Neulander case. Carol Saline, a writer for Philadelphia Magazine, was fined $1,000 for approaching a juror before deliberations ended.
Neulander is awaiting a retrial in September.