CINCINNATI — Federal prosecutors say a juror who made Facebook posts during the public corruption trial of former Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld did nothing wrong, and a defense attorney's attempt to examine her cell phone is an “egregious invasion” of privacy.
The unidentified juror, who is known as ‘Juror X,’ has become infamous over the past week after Sittenfeld’s attorneys accused her of misconduct. She made multiple posts on Facebook during the high-profile trial, including during jury selection and on the night before the verdict was announced.
In one post, the unnamed juror said another juror, known as ‘Juror Y,’ shouldn't be on the panel because "she hates anyone that shares the same profession as our person on trial. Not cool!!"
She also criticized another juror for talking too much, saying she, “Doesn’t know a comfortable silence. Kinda wish her tongue would fall out.”
To prosecutors, her posts were simply, “announcements of her experience as a juror.”
Now it's up to U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Cole to decide. He kept the identity of the jury secret, so WCPO cannot confirm the content of any social media posts made by jurors.
Court employees discovered the juror’s Facebook posts and attorneys were given screenshots of them shortly before the verdicts were announced on July 8.
The jury convicted Sittenfeld of bribery and attempted extortion, but found him not guilty of four other charges.
After the discovery of the Facebook posts, Sittenfeld’s attorneys asked for a mistrial but the judge denied that motion.
Following the jury’s verdict, the judge held a secret hearing in his chambers and allowed Sittenfeld’s attorneys to examine Juror X under oath about her social media postings.
“Juror X was questioned about extraneous influence – specifically, about an Instagram post from the Cincinnati Enquirer that a friend had posted. During this question, Juror X confirmed twice that she did not read or review articles about the case,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Megan Gaffney Painter wrote in her motion to deny the forensic exam. “Juror X also testified that she did not communicate with anyone about the evidence in the case or her opinions about it.”
But Sittenfeld’s attorney, Charlie M. Rittgers, accused Juror X of lying, and giving "spurious and inconsistent" answers as to whether she read the comments others posted about her Facebook posts, answered questions about the trial or revealed which jury she was serving on.
Rittgers also accused Juror X of concealing her online conduct from the judge when Cole repeatedly asked if anyone on the jury had looked at news articles about the case or talked to anyone about it.
“Juror X never spoke up. She was continually dishonest by commission and omission. This dishonestly weighs in favor of granting leave for a forensic exam,” Rittgers wrote in his motion.
But that’s not how prosecutors see it.
“Juror X also never revealed any evidence, never commented on the evidence, or expressed her opinion about the evidence through her social media posts. Rather, Juror X mostly posted about her schedule, the fact of her jury service, and compensation. These posts functioned more like announcements of her experiences as a juror,” Painter wrote in her motion.
Prosecutors say the comments Juror X posted about fellow jurors, “at most, those comments expressed annoyance – they did not reveal any specifics about the case.”
Prosecutors say a forensic exam of Juror X's electronic devices would be, “an astonishing invasion of juror privacy – the kind of invasion that would otherwise require a search warrant.”
“This is a gross overreach motivated by the defense’s dissatisfaction with the jury verdict,” Painter wrote.