United States District Court, D. Rhode Island
Zachary C. Kleinsasser, Esq. William E. O'Gara, Esq. Marc
DeSisto, Esq. Thomas W. Lyons, III, Esq.
J. McAuliffe, United States District Judge.
Rhode Island Holdings, Inc. is the publisher of The
Providence Journal (the “Journal”), a daily
newspaper distributed in and around Providence, Rhode Island.
This dispute arises out of the Journal's efforts to
determine the names and addresses of jurors who sat on a
high-profile criminal murder trial - the “DePina
case” - that was tried in the Rhode Island Superior
Court, Providence County, in March of 2018. The Journal seeks
a judicial declaration that the First Amendment to the United
States Constitution, and Rhode Island common law, guarantee
the public and the media access to certain court documents
containing identifying information about citizens selected
for jury service (the “petit jury pool list” and
the so-called “juror cards”). It also seeks a
declaration that, in the future, absent unique and compelling
circumstances, the trial judge who presided over the DePina
case may not prohibit the public (including the media) from
contacting jurors after they have been discharged.
move to dismiss the Journal's complaint, asserting that
it fails to state any viable claims. For the reasons
discussed, that motion is granted.
Journal concedes that much of the relief it seeks has been
mooted. It has already been given access to the documents it
seeks. The petit jury pool list is (and apparently always has
been) available for public inspection during normal business
hours of the Superior Court Jury Commissioner. By letter
dated December 10, 2018, the Journal's counsel notified
the court that the parties had agreed that public access
would likewise be provided to the so-called “juror
cards.” See Letter of Counsel (document no.
26) at 1 (“Rhode Island Superior Court has agreed going
forward to grant expedited press and public access to juror
forms (i.e., juror cards) in all cases in which such records
have been generated. Thus, public access to juror forms/cards
is no longer at issue in the Journal's declaratory
remains, then, is the Journal's request that the court
enter a judicial declaration related to rulings made by the
state court judge who presided over the DePina trial.
Accepting the factual allegations set forth in the
Journal's complaint as true - as the court must at this
juncture - the relevant background is as follows. In 2013,
Jorge DePina was charged with murdering his 10 year-old
daughter. A jury of five men and seven women was selected and
seated. Although the Journal describes the DePina case as
“a high profile and controversial case, ” the
trial judge did not seat an anonymous jury; jury selection
was done in public and the jurors' names were read aloud
in the courtroom. Following the presentation of evidence, the
jury deliberated for approximately eight hours before
returning a verdict finding DePina guilty of second degree
the verdict was read aloud and the jurors were discharged,
the presiding judge issued the following oral “no
contact” order from the bench:
No one, no spectator, no one in the spectator section of the
courtroom, is permitted to contact my jurors. If the jurors
choose to contact anyone, that's upon them. This is for
their protection. The jurors have completed their job, and
when they leave here, and they will be escorted to the door
or to the area where they catch their bus, unless they show
great interest in speaking to the lawyers, and I mean these
four lawyers, do not approach them.
That is how it is. I want to protect their privacy. They have
done their jobs, they've been here three weeks, and the
attorneys on the case, if they want to speak to the jurors
and the jurors showed interest in speaking to you, whole
different story. But beyond that, if they don't show any
interest, they have to be left alone. If you see them at
Walmart, do not acknowledge that you know them. In other
words, I don't allow people to contact jurors. They must
be left alone to go on with their lives.
Exhibit B (transcript of jury trial, April 6, 2018) (document
no. 1-2). Shortly thereafter, the Journal sent a letter to
the trial judge, asking that she vacate her order and permit
the media to contact the jurors who deliberated in the DePina
criminal trial. Complaint, Exhibit D (document no. 1-4). Upon
reflection, the judge did just that. In an order dated May 7,
2018, she vacated her “no contact” order and
stated that “Members of the media are not precluded
from contacting the jurors.” Motion to Dismiss, Exhibit
D (document no. 6-5). Then, on May 16, 2018, the judge again
spoke from the bench and pledged that, in future cases, she
would not issue any orders restricting the public's
access to jurors after they had completed their service
(unless, presumably, she first makes the requisite factual
findings to support empaneling an anonymous jury).
See Complaint, Exhibit C (document no. 1-3).
those assurances from the judge, the Journal seeks a federal
judicial “declaration” (in the nature of an
injunction) that, “post-verdict, in the absence of a
compelling government interest demonstrated by specific,
on-the-record factual findings, [the DePina trial judge] may
not prohibit the media from contacting jurors or otherwise
impede the jury interview process.” Complaint (document
no. 1) at 17. For several reasons, the court is disinclined
to order such extraordinary declaratory relief.
long been understood that the Declaratory Judgment Act
“confer[s] on federal courts unique and substantial
discretion in deciding whether to declare the rights of
litigants.” Wilton v. Seven Falls Co., 515
U.S. 277, 286 (1995). The Journal has failed to ...