JURY SERVICE NO LAUGHING MATTER
This New York Times piece is an interesting look into the tension between a population increasingly engaged in an online world and the need for jurors not to talk about the case they are judging. Jake Letizia is a part time comic and podcast host. He was also a juror on a criminal trial involving allegations that a trader conspired to manipulate prices in the global foreign currency exchange market. The trial lasted three weeks. Understandably, the process grew tedious for Letizia and his fellow jurors. But unlike his fellow jurors, Letizia voiced his frustration on his podcast while the trial was still in progress. This was in direct violation of the judge’s instructions not to discuss the case.
After the trial ended, with a conviction of the trader, the court learned about Letizia’s conduct and informed the parties. Counsel for the defendant moved to set aside the verdict, based on Letizia’s conduct, but the court denied the motion. The judge concluded that he saw no evidence that Letizia had been unfair during deliberations. The judge also noted that Letizia never discussed the trial evidence on his show. In the trial court’s view, Letizia’s shtick about being bored “appeared to be hyperbolic exaggerations. ” The judge also noted that Letizia’s podcast, which had only about 100 listeners, was unlikely to sway anyone.
Defense counsel has appealed the decision, arguing that Letizia’s podcasts were “a flagrant violation of the judge’s instructions and revealed (in explicit detail) his contempt for the jury’s responsibilities.” They may be right, but if the trial court concluded that the comments were “harmless error,” it’s unlikely the appellate court will reverse.
Apparently, Letizia didn’t reveal during jury selection that he was a “blabbermouth with a podcast.” But given how easy it is to put on a podcast, I would suggest to my fellow trial lawyers who read this blog to add a question to voire dire – “do you host a podcast?” That seems a little more polite than asking jurors if they are blabbermouths.