U. S. District Judge Earl B. Gilliam ruled Tuesday that the press and the public will be excluded from parts of jury selection in the trial of Nancy Hoover Hunter, who is charged with fraud, conspiracy and income tax evasion stemming from the collapse of the J. David & Co. investment firm.
Gilliam made the ruling Tuesday after a lawyer for Copley Press, which publishes the San Diego Union and Tribune, objected to Gilliam’s plan to conduct some questioning of potential jurors in private.
Tuesday was the first day of jury selection in Hunter’s trial on a 234-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury in November, 1986. No jurors were selected during the daylong session.
Gilliam said Tuesday that he plans to question each potential juror out of the presence of other jurors and the press about subjects related to pretrial publicity. “I’m going to try to create a vacuum,” Gilliam said.
He said the private questioning is “proper because it will facilitate the jurors giving truthful answers.” Their answers would be “more candid,” he said, if the press and public are not permitted to listen.
“The privacy of the jurors will outweigh the First Amendment right of the public,” Gilliam said.
Laura Halgren, the attorney who filed the motion on behalf of Copley, argued Tuesday that appeals courts have ruled consistently in recent years that “the presumption is always for openness” unless there is a “specific, overriding” reason for jury selection to be closed. No such reason had been shown, she said.
Hunter’s lawyers and prosecutors in the case agreed with Gilliam Tuesday that the press and public should be excluded.
Copley Press plans to appeal the ruling.