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Four Philadelphia Inquirer reporters were found guilty of contempt and fined last week for defying an order neither to approach nor name in print former jurors in a high-profile murder case. New Jersey Superior Court Judge Theodore Davis ruled June 17 that Emilie Lounsberry, Dwight Ott, George Anastasia and Joseph Gambardello violated the order by collaborating in a news article that disclosed a juror’s name. On Thursday, he imposed $1,000 fines on each of them. In addition, Davis issued suspended 180-day sentences with credit for community service to Lounsberry, Ott and Anastasia, whom he found had sought to interview jurors. Lounsberry and Ott are to serve 10 days and Anastasia five days in a county labor program. Davis cautioned Ott, Anastasia and Lounsberry that if they violate the judge’s orders during the retrial, they would have to serve their full sentences in jail. Lawyers for the four reporters said they would appeal the contempt convictions and sentences. Superior Court Judge Linda Baxter imposed the prohibition last November after a hung jury ended the trial of Fred Neulander, a former Cherry Hill, N.J., rabbi accused of the contract murder of his wife. Baxter ordered the media not to contact the discharged jurors or print their names because publication would endanger Neulander’s right to a retrial, which is set for this fall in Monmouth County, N.J. She did not bar jurors from speaking to the press if they initiated contact. In April, the New Jersey Supreme Court upheld the restriction on media contact with discharged jurors but found the ban on publication of jurors’ names unconstitutional. Still, the ban on publication was in place at the time the Inquirer reporters printed a juror’s name. In passing sentence, Davis called the reporters’ conduct “arrogant” and said the judicial system offered other avenues for pursuing their opposition to the order. “A line must be drawn and we as a people should not descend below that line, because if we do we are destroying what has been established over the last several hundred years. That’s what this case is about. The envelope has been pushed. “Yes, the media was polite with regard to the persons they contacted,” Davis continued. “Quite persistent, annoying to the persons they contacted. Even armed robbers are polite. But what are they doing? Violating the law.” Davis rejected the claims by defense counsel during a May 23 hearing that Baxter’s order was so vague as to be unenforceable. At that hearing, witnesses testified that Anastasia visited the homes of two jurors and spoke with their relatives after Baxter declared a mistrial, that Ott spoke to a juror at her home, and that Lounsberry telephoned a juror. Davis called the vagueness claim “a feat of legerdemain,” writing in his opinion that “great precision is required, especially when First Amendment rights are involved. However, the precision about which our courts have spoken doesn’t mean that it must, by analogy, have the tensile strength of a spider’s web, but must be such that the power and strength of the First Amendment, which is accorded to the media, is not by the exercise of sound reason vitiated. “And, in the exercise of this reason, care must be given to the competing right and strength of the judiciary. The tension between the two must be resolved while at the same time protecting each,” the judge continued. After the sentencing, lawyers for the Inquirer reporters declined to comment on the ruling, other than to say they would appeal. Inquirer Executive Editor Walker Lundy, who attended the sentencing hearing, said he was “shocked.” He said the four reporters had acted with his approval when they pursued jurors after the Neulander mistrial. “I don’t believe the decision will stand. I always thought in this country you could ask anybody any question,” says Lundy. If they lose their appeals, Ott, Anastasia and Lounsberry would be required to report to the Camden County, N.J., Supplemental Labor Service, where they would likely be bused to a park for grounds-keeping duty under supervision of corrections officers, says county spokesman Kevin McElroy. In January, Davis found another journalist in contempt for contacting a juror during the Neulander trial. Carol Saline of Philadelphia Magazine was fined $1,000 and given a 30-day suspended sentence. Inquirer lawyers say they may also seek U.S. Supreme Court review of the New Jersey Supreme Court’s April ruling, which has not yet been issued in writing.

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