Trib appealing judge’s refusal to release juror names in Westmoreland sheriff’s mistrial
The names of jurors who deliberated in the trial for Westmoreland County Sheriff Jonathan Held will remain shielded from the public, a judge ruled Friday.
Senior Common Pleas Judge Timothy Creany ordered that the names be released when Held’s criminal case is resolved. A retrial date has been set for April.
“The defendant’s right to a fair trial is an overriding interest and we should preserve that higher value of a fair trial,” Creany said.
The Tribune-Review plans to appeal the decision.
“The Pennsylvania Supreme Court was clear in its ruling in Commonwealth v. Long, that the press and the public have a right of access to the names of jurors,” said Joe Lawrence, Trib Total Media general counsel. “This is an important component to access to criminal proceedings and particularly important when a public official is involved.”
The Trib has sought the jury list, typically considered a public record, since the trial ended Dec. 7 in a mistrial when jurors said they were unable to reach a unanimous verdict. Lawrence argued in court Friday that the public has a right to the list of juror names based on legal precedent.
Held, 44, of Hempfield, is awaiting retrial on two charges that he directed on-duty uniformed deputies and office staffers to secure donations for campaign fundraisers in 2015 and 2016. They used county equipment such as computers and cars for the campaign activities, prosecutors said.
Seven men and five women deliberated earlier this month for nearly six hours, when they returned to the courtroom saying they had reached a verdict.
Creany announced that Held had been convicted of a felony charge of conflict of interest and a misdemeanor count of theft when reading from a verdict slip signed by all 12 jurors. When each member of the panel was polled individually, Juror No. 6 said he could not affirm the conviction. The remaining jurors were not polled.
The panel was ordered to continue deliberating but, about 30 minutes later, it reported a verdict could not be reached and a mistrial was declared.
Neither the defense nor the prosecution objected to the release of the names Friday, rather, telling Creany it’s clear the law permits the release of the names. The state Supreme Court in 2007 ruled that juror lists are considered public record. The case was brought by the Tribune-Review after a Westmoreland County judge refused to release the names of jurors who convicted a Ligonier podiatrist of killing his wife in 1998.
Creany shared concerns about the ability to pick a new jury and for Held to receive a fair retrial in April.
“The chilling effect” that releasing the names might have on a new pool of jurors “will impact the defendant’s right to a fair trial,” he said.
“I know that doesn’t satisfy you,” Creany told Lawrence after issuing his order. “You will have the names, but not while we’re still litigating this matter.”
Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, [email protected] or via Twitter @byrenatta.