The Supreme Court of Washington issued opinions on four cases Wednesday about how courts and judges interact with jurors. In three of the cases the Supreme Court ruled that jury selection has to happen in the open.
David Zuckerman was a lawyer on one of the cases. He represented an inmate who appealed his conviction of molesting and raping his own daughter. Zuckerman reviewed the trial transcript, and he noticed that “the judge handled some of the jury selection not in a public courtroom, but instead in the judge’s private chambers.” Zuckerman said that was a violation the Washington Constitution.
“All proceedings are supposed to be handled in an open public courtroom,” he said, “unless the judge finds some very compelling reasons to keep a hearing closed.”
The Supreme Court majority agreed with Zuckerman. His client gets a new trial.
Zuckerman said lawyers who win cases like this worry sometimes about how the public will react, especially when someone convicted of a serious crime gets to start over. But Zuckerman said maintaining an open court is not only about the rights of a defendant. “Really, the court is protecting the rights of everybody,” he said, including the public and the press. “Anyone who wants to see whether things are being done fairly.”
In another case, the Supreme Court decided a judge can take questions from jurors without reading or discussing them in open court, as long as the questions and answers become part of the court record.