CARSON CITY — Clark County District Judge Jackie Glass should not have denied the press copies of questionnaires filed out by jurors last year in the O.J. Simpson robbery trial, the Supreme Court ruled today.
In a 6-0 vote, justices ruled the judge’s September 2008 promise to jurors that questionnaires would not be released “does not supersede the public’s and press’s First Amendment right to access criminal proceedings.”
For Glass to deny access to the questionnaires, she was required to make specific findings for the “compelling state interest” to keep them confidential, according to the opinion.
Today, Glass could not be reached for comment and copies of the questionnaires could not be obtained from the District Court.
The Review-Journal and Associated Press appealed the decision to withhold both blank and completed questionnaires at the beginning of Simpson’s trial.
Although the state Supreme Court stated it normally does not consider matters that are moot, justices predicted that similar requests for juror questionnaires may be made in future, and judges will need guidance on what they should do.
Glass released heavily redacted copies of the questionnaires following the trial, in which Simpson and co-defendant Clarence “C.J.” Stewart were convicted of armed robbery and kidnapping in connection with the heist of sports memorabilia.
Justices ordered Glass, a former Las Vegas television reporter, to release “all unredacted complete juror questionnaires” to the two media outlets. The Review-Journal and AP were represented by Las Vegas attorney Don Campbell.
The court noted that the questionnaire information that Glass withheld dealt with where the jurors were born and raised, where they now live, their occupations, employers and children.
“This case offers valuable guidance to district court judges faced with familiar issues in the future,” said Mark Hinueber, general counsel for the Stephens Media Group, which includes the Review-Journal. “It also establishes the absolute right of the press to intervene in a criminal proceeding to protect the interests of the public.”
In denying the release of the questionnaires last year, Glass said that their release before the end of the trial could have tainted jurors and jeopardized Simpson’s right to a fair trial.
In their opinion, Nevada justices said a U.S. Supreme Court decision in a case involving California’s Riverside Press-Enterprise should have been followed by the judge.
In that decision, the high court held that public access to criminal proceedings is not absolute. But the presumption of openness “may be overcome only by an overriding interest based on findings that closure is essentially to preserve higher values and is narrowly tailored to serve that interest.”
In the Simpson case, Glass “expressed a general concern with potential jurors’ candidness” if the questionnaires were released, according to the Nevada justices.
“Although juror candidness is a valid, considerable interest, we decline to adopt a policy of suspicion and mistrust in this case by determining that 12 citizens could not be found among a large poll of potential jurors who would faithfully perform their jury services,” the state high court opinion stated.
Simpson received a sentence that requires him to spend a minimum of nine years in prison. He is serving his sentence at the Lovelock Correctional Center.
Contact reporter Ed Vogel at email@example.com or 775-687-3901.