Leave the jurors alone.
In the frenzied aftermath of Casey Anthony's not guilty verdict, you heard it again and again: Why should the media have the right to know who jurors are, even in a case unlike any other?
The Anthony trial was certainly that. The jurors' first clue to how strange this would be came when they were selected in Pinellas and whisked off to Orlando. Interest in the infamous mother accused of murdering her little girl there was that intense.
Normally when a trial is over, a judge thanks the jurors for their service (six weeks of it, in this case) and tells them they are normal folk again, free to talk about it or not, their choice.
Yes, some highly emotional, highly publicized trials evoke strong reaction, and we have criminal laws on the books to keep people, including jurors, from being harassed.
But Circuit Judge Belvin Perry also took the unusual move of keeping jurors' names sealed, citing people's unhappiness with their verdict. And given the angry reaction to Anthony's acquittal, maybe the seven-day "cooling off period" the judge announced before the names will be released is not unreasonable.
But people still wanted to know: Why do reporters need to know who the jurors are, ever?
The media took a hit in this case, particularly for some national pretrial coverage. In our midst, we have some talking heads short on fact and long on opinion. We have scorched-earth reporters and even a British tabloid, it is alleged, that hacked the voice mails of dead soldiers' relatives and more. But no matter what you do for a paycheck, there will always be people you wish would not count themselves as members of your tribe.
So why do we need to know the jurors' names? First off, because everyone should always want government's hands where we can see them.
When any part of our system does business in secret — spending, hiring, even trying court cases — you can bet someone within that system will one day find a way to corrupt it, to get a little something for himself, because hey, who's watching? Corners are cut, bribes taken and deals made in the dark. Imagine you could never discover that a juror was an old friend of the prosecutor or an ex-employee of the defense. Courthouse corruption does not exist only in John Grisham beach-reads.
Over the years I've approached jurors who did not want to talk and interviewed jurors eager to explain. It's enlightening to hear how certain testimony, lawyerly tactics or witness demeanor played in the jury room. Jurors talk a lot about evidence they wished they had seen. And jurors who voted not guilty often said they definitely did not mean innocent, that the defendant might be guilty, probably was guilty, but they followed the law as instructed anyway.
Even with their names still sealed, one juror went on national TV after the Anthony verdict, her name and face in full public view. And another reportedly offered to speak to reporters for money. (Maybe that's one the jury tribe would kick off their island.)
Another talked to the Times. He did not want his name used, but he sounded like he wanted people to understand. "I wish we had more evidence to put her away," he said. "I truly do." And in a case that had the public clamoring for answers, we learned something about what happened in that jury room. That's why we ask.