CINCINNATI – Scripps/WCPO filed suit Friday for the release of juror questionnaires in Ray Tensing's murder retrial.
WCPO and its parent company are also seeking to block Judge Leslie Ghiz's restrictions on media coverage in the courtroom.
The suit, filed in Ohio's First District Court of Appeals, asks the court for an immediate ruling since jury selection got underway Friday morning and continued after Ghiz was served with notice of the suit at about noon.
The suit seeks:
- Release of questionnaires filled out by 180 prospective jurors;
- The same access to the courtroom as members of the public if WCPO is not one of the media outlets to win the lottery for media seats established by Ghiz. Ghiz has reserved seats for the public on a first-come, first-served basis.
- Free use of electronic devices in the courtroom and the fifth-floor hallway, banned by Ghiz.
- Freedom to photograph and record prospective jurors, jurors, witnesses and victims, banned by Ghiz.
NOTE: WCPO does not publish juror names or images that show jurors' identities without the permission of those jurors. However, WCPO believes it is important for journalists to be able to contact jurors and talk to them about what happened during the trial and deliberations -- if jurors are willing to talk.
READ the suit below.
Ghiz has opposed the release of the questionnaires, saying prospective jurors feared their personal information and safety would be put at risk. Attorneys representing WCPO and others have argued the media and the public are entitled to information about the prospective jurors.
"If the retrial proceeds under the current order (and with no completed juror questionnaires available for public inspection) the public and the press will not be able to meaningfully observe the proceedings and their First Amendment rights will be eviscerated," the suit says,.
The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that juror questionnaires are public record. "WCPO has clear legal right to the completed questionnaires with Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers and phone numbers redacted," the suit says.
WCPO filed a motion May 26 requesting unredacted questionnaires. Ghiz has not responded to that motion, the suit says.
The media argued for release of the questionnaires during a Thursday hearing, but Ghiz didn't rule on the request and allowed jury selection to start Friday morning with the matter unresolved.
The Thursday hearing was "a show trial engineered to arrive at a pre-ordained conclusion," according to the suit.
The prosecutor's office provided two deputies and a court bailiff to testify to the need for Ghiz's restrictions, but the suit says the evidence did not meet the standard for overriding the public and press's First Amendment rights.
"Her findings at the trial are based on inadmissible, irrelevant and anecdotal evidence ... at no time did Respondent hear evidence concerning less restrictive means to her restrictions on media access and coverage nor did she make any findings that less restrictive means were unavailing or deficient," the suit says.
Last year, Ghiz said this in a radio interview about releasing questionnaires:
"All it does is spook the jurors and it’s just craziness. You want a fair and impartial trial for the state and the defendant ... and you can’t get that when the media is blabbing out ... There is no valid reason for it.”
But the suit disputes that.
"Without access to the juror questionnaires, WCPO and the public are prohibited from knowing anything about the people who will decide a high-profile case of great importance to the community," the suit says. "WCPO and the public will not know basic information about the jurors socio-economic status, education, memberships and affiliations."
That undercuts the "bedrock principle of open courts," the suit says. Without openness, the result will be "distrust and suspicion about the fairness of the trial."
In the first Tensing trial, Judge Meghan Shanahan released redacted jury questionnaires but not until two weeks after the trial ended in a hung jury. Jurors' names, addresses, family information and job history were also blacked out.
Last week, media attorneys went to the First District Court of Appeals to protest the restrictions Ghiz put on media coverage of the Tensing retrial. The appeals court ruled Ghiz's restrictions "are contrary to law" because she made them without a hearing or considering evidence. So Ghiz vacated her order and scheduled Thursday's hearing.
Ghiz has made it clear she doesn't want the filled-out juror questionnaires released in any form -- redacted or not. And neither do prospective jurors, she said. Ghiz said many of the 180 people who filled out the questionnaires expressed concern for protecting their private information and safety. She pointed to responses on two questions about juror feelings on the chance their names are made public.
"Out of those 180 there were 77 responses who either don't want to serve if their identities are revealed or information is released to the media or have a safety concern," the judge said.
But attorney Jack Greiner, representing the Enqurier. countered by pointing out that 103 people answered just the opposite.
"What that demonstrates conclusively is the majority of the pool is not concerned," he said.
In a ruling several hours later, the judge allowed the media to use electronic devices in the media room but kept the ban on their use in court and limits on the number of media members allowed into the proceedings.
Tensing, a former University of Cincinnati police officer, is charged with murder and voluntary manslaughter for fatally shooting black motorist Samuel DuBose during a traffic stop July 19, 2015. Tensing has claimed his use of force was justified, saying DuBose’s car dragged him as DuBose tried to drive off from a traffic stop and left Tensing in fear for his life.
Tensing's first trial ended in a hung jury.
See all of WCPO's coverage of the Tensing trial at www.wcpo.com/tensingtrial.