Jurors deliberating in Sarah Palin’s libel case against The New York Times received breaking news alerts on their phones telling them that the judge had thrown out their case while they were deliberating it, it has emerged – strengthening Palin’s lawyers’ resolve to appeal.
The five women and four men insisted that the news alerts did not have any effect on their decision. Judge Jed Rakoff, who surprised the court on Monday by throwing out the case while the jury were still in the deliberation process, admitted that the legal teams may have questions about the events.
“If any party feels there is any relief they seek based on the above, counsel should promptly initiate a joint phone call with the Court to discuss whether any further proceedings are appropriate,” Rakoff wrote in a court filing on Wednesday.
Rakoff explained in his two-page filing: “Late yesterday, in the course of such an inquiry in this case, in which the jury confirmed that they had fully understood the instructions and had no suggestions regarding jury instructions for future cases,several jurors volunteered to the law clerk that, prior to the rendering of the jury verdict in this case, they had learned of the fact of this Court’s Rule 50 determination on Monday to dismiss the case on legal grounds.”
“These jurors reported that although they had been assiduously adhering to the Court’s instruction to avoid media coverage of the trial, they had involuntarily received ‘push notifications’ on their smartphones that contained the bottom-line of the ruling.”
“The jurors repeatedly assured the Court’s law clerk that these notifications had not affected them in any way or played any role whatever in their deliberations.”
Rakoff’s decision to dismiss the case before the verdict was greeted by surprise by legal experts, with several pointing out that the judge had no need to declare his decision before the jury concluded its work.
Mitchell Epner, who has consulted with media organizations on First Amendment and copyright issues, told Law & Crime: ‘I would have expected the judge to wait for the jury to return its verdict before ruling on the motion for judgment as a matter of law, because there was no urgency to issuing that ruling.
“Nothing would have changed if he had waited for the verdict to have been announced, or for the jury to say that they couldn’t reach a verdict.”