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Commonwealth v. Fujita

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Middlesex

January 27, 2015

Commonwealth
v.
Nathaniel Fujita

Argued: May 6, 2014.

Indictments found and returned in the Superior Court Department on August 4, 2011.

Following entry of an order on a posttrial motion for access to the jury list by Peter M. Lauriat, J., review of the order was sought by a nonparty from a single justice of the Appeals Court.

The matter was reported to a panel of the Appeals Court by Mark V. Green, J. The Supreme Judicial Court on its own initiative transferred the case from the Appeals Court.

Jonathan M. Albano for Globe Newspaper Company, Inc.

Eva M. Badway, Assistant Attorney General, for the Attorney General, intervener.

Present: Spina, Cordy, Botsford, Gants, Duffly, & Lenk, JJ.[1] Gants, C.J. (concurring in part and dissenting in part).

OPINION

[23 N.E.3d 884] Cordy, J.

This appeal arises out of a Superior Court judge's ruling on a motion by the Globe Newspaper Company, Inc. (Globe), seeking postverdict access to the " jury list" containing the names and addresses of the jurors who served at the trial of Nathaniel Fujita on charges of murder in the first degree and

Page 485

assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon. The trial began on February 11, 2013. On March 1, while the trial was ongoing, the Globe filed its motion to obtain the names and addresses of the jurors immediately following entry of the verdict, for the purpose of ascertaining their willingness to discuss the trial.[2] On March 7, 2013, the jury returned verdicts of guilty. Seven days later, the trial judge held a hearing on the Globe's motion. On March 26, he ruled that he would send letters to the jury asking if they were " amenable" to speaking to the press, and would permit disclosure only of the names and addresses of those jurors who responded affirmatively to his letter. On April 16, 2013, presumably at the judge's direction, the Superior Court clerk's office provided the Globe [23 N.E.3d 885] with the names and addresses of two jurors willing to speak to the press, along with instructions that the Globe was to " use this information only for the purpose stated in [its] motion" and " not to disseminate this juror information to other news agencies or third persons."

The Globe filed a petition for relief from the judge's ruling with a single justice of the Appeals Court pursuant to G. L. c. 231, § 118. The single justice initially denied the petition, but on reconsideration reported it to a panel of the Appeals Court.[3] We transferred the petitioner's appeal to this court on our own motion.

After oral argument, we remanded the case to the Superior Court judge for findings regarding questions about the creation and retention of any list of jurors empanelled to render a verdict in the case.[4]

Page 486

For the reasons more fully set forth herein, we conclude that the public's long-term interest in maintaining an open judicial process, as embodied in the United States Constitution and Massachusetts common law, requires that a list identifying the names of jurors who have been empanelled and rendered a verdict in a criminal case be retained in the court file of the case and be made available to the public in the same manner as other court records. Only on a judicial finding of good cause, which may include a risk of harm to the jurors or to the integrity of their service, may such a list be withheld.[5] Insofar as the only basis for the order in this case was the judge's aversion to exposing jurors to press interviews and the personal preferences of the jurors, his order must be set aside in part, and a list identifying the names of jurors (without addresses) be disclosed.[6]

Discussion.

It is beyond debate that, absent extraordinary circumstances,[7] the identities of jurors empanelled to serve at criminal trials are presumptively public under long-standing Massachusetts law, practice, and ...


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