Herald-Leader asks federal judge to strike down rule preventing juror interviews

The Lexington Herald-Leader has asked a federal judge to strike down a court rule that bars reporters and the public from contacting jurors after criminal trials.

The rule violates the newspaper's First Amendment right to gather and report news, its attorneys argued in a motion filed Wednesday.

The rule is an issue in the case of two men charged with beating a gay man in Harlan County because of his sexual orientation.

Cousins Jason and Anthony Jenkins were the first people in the nation tried under a section of the federal hate-crime law that makes it illegal to injure someone because of the victim's real or perceived sexual orientation.

After six days of testimony and arguments in federal court in London, jurors on Oct. 24 convicted the cousins on kidnapping and conspiracy charges.

However, the jury acquitted the two on the charge that they assaulted the victim because of his sexual orientation — a setback for the government in its first attempt to win a conviction at trial under the gay-bias section of the hate-crime law.

There is significant public interest in the case because it was the first test of part of the law, the newspaper said in its motion.

Only jurors could explain the reasoning in their verdict.

However, a rule in the federal district courts for Eastern and Western Kentucky says no person, party or attorney "may contact, interview or communicate with any juror before, during or after trial," except with court permission.

The newspaper's motion cites cases in which courts struck down similar rules against contacting jurors.

"A court rule cannot . . . restrict the journalistic right to gather news unless it is narrowly tailored to prevent a substantial threat to the administration of justice," said one ruling cited in the motion.

The rule in Kentucky is unjustifiably broad, the Herald-Leader argued in its motion.

The motion seeks to intervene in the case to challenge the rule, and an order declaring the rule unconstitutional.