A Utah judge has threatened attorneys with contempt of court for making unwanted calls to jurors in the trial of polygamous sect leader Warren S. Jeffs.
Fifth District Judge James L. Shumate’s order says he “has been made aware of persons making unwanted, and, in some cases, harassing attempts to contact jurors in this case and members of their families.”
David Finch, who served as jury foreman, was one of several jurors who received unwanted calls from a private investigator hired by Jeffs’ attorneys.
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“What he was trying to do was get something that would impeach the jurors so they could file an appeal,” Finch said. “A couple of us called the judge and told him we were having a problem with that.”
Shumate reminded attorneys of a professional conduct rule prohibiting them from contacting jurors who have made known “a desire not to communicate.”
He also ordered that “no person” shall “harass, intimidate, or otherwise annoy members of the jury regarding members in this case.”
The jurors convicted Jeffs on Sept. 19 of two felony counts of rape as an accomplice, which is punishable by five years to life in prison.
Jeffs will be sentenced on Nov. 20.
The five women and three men who decided the case spoke freely about their deliberations in a group interview shortly after delivering the verdicts. Some also gave interviews later outside the courthouse.
Attorneys often attempt to speak with jurors after a trial to learn where they succeeded or failed in making their case.
But those overtures are sometimes rebuffed.
Jurors who sat through a two-month civil trial involving State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. in 1996 refused to discuss their deliberations. The company’s attorneys tried anyway and sought unsuccessfully to get a new trial based in part on the silence of the jurors – who complained about the contact to the judge.
Washington County Prosecutor Brock Belnap and Brian Filter, a deputy attorney, sat through the group media interview with jurors after the Jeffs’ trial. Defense attorneys – Walter Bugden, Tara Isaacson and Richard Wright – were not present.
“We have not initiated any contact with jurors whatsoever from our end,” Filter said Wednesday. “We have had contact initiated by a couple of them toward us.”
As for the defense team, Bugden said, “We’re just doing our jobs” and declined further comment.
Finch said the investigator wasn’t offensive but the jurors were tired of being bugged by him and “weren’t sure why this guy was calling.” Finch, who received three calls, said, “It became kind of annoying.”