Judge bans Internet release of juror names
BY BILL BRAUN World Staff Writer
Sunday, July 08, 2012
7/08/12 at 7:26 AM
With the Internet rearing its head, more effort is needed now to get the names of jurors and witnesses who appear at Tulsa County District Court trials.
An administrative order by Presiding District Judge William Kellough, effective in mid-June, directs the Court Clerk's Office to omit the names of jurors and witnesses in all jury trials in the official court minutes that are posted on the Internet.
In the interest of "appropriate anonymity," the names of jurors and witnesses will not be on the Internet record, according to Kellough.
Any document identifying jurors that is filed and made part of the case record will not be available for Internet viewing by the general public, the order says.
This information is still part of the public record, it "just won't be on the Internet," Court Clerk Sally Howe Smith said.
Names of jurors and witnesses will be available to the public in some other fashion, she said.
To guard against potential "situations of intimidation or retaliation, we thought this was probably a good move," according to Smith.
In the past, names of Tulsa County jurors and witnesses have often been available when a trial ends over the state court's website at tulsaworld.com/oscn
District Judge Kurt Glassco said that in fielding questions from jurors, they routinely ask if they "have to be concerned" based on their service.
"I want them to feel safe and secure," he said. "They perform a vital service."
Jurors state their names in court, but Glassco indicated that he typically does not require specific information regarding employment and residence location.
District Judge Rebecca Nightingale said jurors are "concerned about their names being released to the defendants, the parties or the Internet."
Court officials here are trying to "support our jurors" in their performance of a civic duty, she said.
Joey Senat, an associate professor at the School of Media and Strategic Communications at Oklahoma State University, said that requiring the public to go to a courthouse to get information such as the names of jurors and witnesses "is designed to create an obstacle of time and distance."
"It seems like they are being overly protective," Senat said.
The Internet "opens up the courtsystem" and makes the courts more available to the public, Senat said.
Assistant District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said "it is not a surprise to me that people involved in criminal cases have concerns about their names appearing" in public courts or records.
The law allows in certain situations that some people who testify in court can avoid having their names made public in court documents, he said.
Tulsa County court officials have tackled other Internet issues in recent years.
In December, the court clerk's office began posting an expanded list of records and documents online, pursuant to Oklahoma Supreme Court rules.
On occasion in civil cases here, judges have ordered online access to a docket sheet, which contains information about a specific case, to be restricted from public view during the trial of that case.
Jurors are regularly instructed not to search the Internet for information about the case they are hearing.
Original Print Headline: Judge bars Internet release of witness or juror names
Bill Braun 918-581-8455