Providence Journal Sues Court For Access To Jurors: Hearing Continued

May 14, 2018

A hearing has been continued, in the Providence Journal's lawsuit against a judge, following a high-profile murder trial. Karen Bordeleau, president of the New England First Amendment Coalition and a former executive editor of The Providence Journal, discusses the lawsuit. Bordeleau said an order from Superior Court Judge Netti Vogel barring access to the jury was not normal procedure for the court.   

Karen Bordeleau, NEFAC
Credit Chuck Hinman / RIPR

In Newport Superior Court on Monday, there was no resolution of the lawsuit brought by the Providence Journal against Superior Court Judge Netti Vogel, alleging she violated First Amendment press freedoms. The Journal filed suit because Judge Vogel had banned anyone, including reporters, from contacting jurors after a high-profile murder trial. After the paper sued, Judge Vogel lifted her press ban, but other issues remained to be heard by Superior Court Judge Maureen Keough. Providence attorney Tom Lyons represented several media organizations as a “friend of the court” at Monday's hearing. He says it came out in court that the Journal had been supplied with a list of the jury pool, and Lyons says that figured in the hearing being continued.         

"Judge Keough decided that because the Journal at least had gotten the names of the jurors, and been able to try to contact them, that in fact there was no emergency issue anymore," said Lyons. "So she was going to have another hearing.”

According to The Providence Journal, attorneys originally filed the lawsuit because the judge had banned anyone, including reporters, from contacting jurors after the trial of a Pawtucket man, Jorge DePina, who was convicted of 2nd degree murder in the death of his 10-year-old daughter.

After the paper sued, Judge Vogel lifted the press ban, but it remained unclear if the ban still applied to the general public. A separate court order remained in effect denying the release of the jurors’ names.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island and some media organizations submitted a “friend of the court brief” supporting the lawsuit. The New England First Amendment Coalition was one of the organizations joining the brief. Bordeleau said the case was about more than a dispute between a newspaper and a judge.

"It's not just a journalism issue, it's not even really a press issue, " said Bordeleau. "It's a free speech issue."                                                                                                                                                                                                The next hearing in the case is scheduled for June 1st in Providence Superior Court, before Judge Maureen Keough.