CINCINNATI -- Judge Leslie Ghiz put Ray Tensing's retrial on hold Tuesday while she fought to get her media restrictions reinstated and to keep jurors' names secret.
Jury voir dire -- when attorneys and the judge can question prospective jurors in court -- was supposed to begin Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. At 10:10 a.m., Ghiz said in open court that she had released the potential jurors.
Later in the day, Ghiz said she had vacated her order restricting the media in her courtroom, but it's believed that she continued to work on new plans to accomplish that and keep jurors' names out of the public. She set a hearing for 9:30 a.m. Thursday.
The attorney representing WCPO, Monica Dias of Frost Brown Todd, explained why the media wants full access to jurors' names and the courtroom.
"If jurors' identifies are kept secret, that's a big chunk of the case that's walled off from the public and the public cannot determine if justice has been administered fairly," Dias said.
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.
Dias said the media's right to courtroom access is well established.
“The First Amendment, Ohio Supreme Court case law and the United States Supreme Court case law protect the right of the media as the eyes and ears of the public to enter the courtroom, watch the proceedings and make sure the proceedings are handled in a just manner,” Dias said.
Ghiz had also ordered that that only one member of the Sam DuBose or Tensing families could be in court. DuBose's mother and sister wouldn't comment, but their attorney, Al Gerhardstein, did.
"This is an important event in our community. The ability of the criminal system to hold a police officer accountable under the law is critical to our trust in the criminal justice system. If we can't figure out how to run this trial, we're in trouble," Gerhardstein said.
"The family wants to be present in numbers that help the public see that they really care about this case, It's weighing very heavily on them. I know that they're upset that they just learned that the case is going to be delayed.”
On Friday, Ohio's First District Court of Appeals temporarily dismissed an order by Ghiz restricting some news media access. WCPO and other local media outlets, including the Cincinnati Enquirer, Associated Press, WXIX-TV, WLWT-TV and WKRC-TV, filed complaints against Ghiz over rules she created for retrial.
The appeals court found that Ghiz's restrictions were "contrary to law" because she made them without having a hearing or considering evidence.
Ghiz had said media outlets would need to sign a "waiver" agreeing they wouldn't show jurors, witnesses or victims who had a problem with being recorded. Any news outlet that didn't agree would have been banned from airing and recording what happens in Ghiz's courtroom. The judge also said she was barring electronic devices such as smartphones, laptops and tablets from the courtroom and entire fifth floor of the Hamilton County Courthouse during the trial.
Staff from all the outlets in the complaint submitted waivers, as court proceedings began before a ruling was made on their petition.
The restrictions run afoul of rules established by the Ohio Supreme Court, as well as rulings at the state and federal level, according to the complaint. For example, a witness or victim can object to being recorded -- but, according to the complaint, a judge must have a hearing to decide if that person has a valid reason before restricting the media.
The media outlets argued that Ghiz "abused her judicial power" and violated the First Amendment by limiting access to the juror information.
In a response to the complaint, Ghiz cited a "juror revolt" during the first Tensing trial, when they reportedly said that they were in "fear for their well-being." The media outlets argued that "revolt" was caused by "the court's failure to provide adequate notice to jurors of their right to request" a private hearing.
Following the court's decision Friday, Ghiz was unable to enforce the "waiver" restrictions.
When jury selection resumes, the pool of potential jurors will be whittled down to 12 and four alternates to hear the case against Tensing, a former University of Cincinnati police officer being retried for murder. About 1,000 prospective jurors were initially summoned for this week’s retrial. That number was cut down to 243 after hardship hearings, and then to 180, who filled out a 25-page questionnaire last week.
Jury selection for Tensing's first trial took only one day.
For complete trial coverage, visit wcpo.com/TensingTrial.