Judge allows Ky. newspaper to contact trial jurors

Monday, November 26, 2012

LEXINGTON, Ky. — A judge has given permission to a Kentucky newspaper to contact jurors who heard a trial of two cousins charged in the kidnapping and assault of a gay man in Harlan County.

But U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove refused to strike down the court rule that prevented The Lexington Herald-Leader from contacting jurors unless permitted by court.

Jason and Anthony Jenkins were the first people in the nation charged under an expanded hate-crimes law for attacking Kevin Pennington in April 2011.

During the trial in October, jurors convicted the cousins on kidnapping and conspiracy charges, but acquitted them on the charge that they assaulted him because of his sexual orientation.

The newspaper had challenged a court rule that said unless permitted by court, “no person, party or attorney, nor any representative of a party or attorney may contact, interview, or communicate with any juror before, during or after trial.”

The newspaper argued it was an unconstitutional hindrance to the newspaper’s First Amendment right to gather news.

Van Tatenhove said that although the rule may be inconvenient, it does include a provision under which the newspaper can seek permission to contact jurors. He also refused to strike down a rule against publicly releasing information about the jurors, such as their names.

He said he would contact the jurors in the Harlan County case and ask if they were willing to speak to a reporter.

“In this way the rule does not erect an impenetrable wall of partition between the jury and the media, it simply provides for an intermediate step that the press must take before contacting jurors,” Van Tatenhove wrote in his decision.

The judge characterized the rule as an aspect of juror privacy to protect against “harassment and molestation.”

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