Carroll County's three Circuit Court judges have devised a "jury protection order" to prevent prosecutors and defense lawyers from harassing jurors after trials.
The order allows attorneys to question jurors in the courtroom after a trial if the jurors consent to such interviews. But after the jurors leave the courtroom, the attorneys cannot contact them until their 30-day terms of service have expired.
The order seeks to "regulate juror contact in the interests of justice and to protect jurors from harassment," it states. It does not affect reporters, who are free to speak to jurors after trials.
Fill-in-the-blank copies of the order are stocked at the benches in all three of the county's circuit courtrooms. They are used at the discretion of the trial judges.
"As far as I'm concerned, the jury can talk to anybody they want to," said Judge Francis M. Arnold, who said he has not used the order.
"But these panels serve all month," he said. "And if they're shown, say, suppressed evidence in a case where they just acquitted, it could be intimidating."
Court employees say the three judges apparently discussed the jury contact issue after a January child sexual abuse case in which, after the defendant was acquitted, a juror asked a prosecutor about any additional evidence not presented in court that might have led jurors to reach a guilty verdict.
Barton F. Walker III, an assistant state's attorney, showed the juror a passage from the defendant's explicit diary that had been suppressed as evidence in earlier hearings.
Moments after reading the passage, the juror broke down and cried in the hallway outside the courtroom.
Mr. Walker's showing of the suppressed evidence prompted an outcry among members of Carroll's defense bar and, as a result of the prosecutor's action, one attorney called for all potential jurors to be stricken from the January pool.
The panel was not stricken. But Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr., the Circuit Court's administrative judge, solicited the opinions of the two other judges -- Judge Arnold and Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. -- to find a way to prevent a repeat performance, court employees said.
Judge Beck declined to comment. His law clerk scoffed at the notion of calling the order a gag order.
"This is necessary in some situations," said Will Somerville. "Sometimes attorneys hassle jurors. This protects jurors from hassle. Discretion is the bottom line."
Judge Beck, the only one of the three judges to use the order, has imposed it twice. Last month, he gave copies to attorneys in the drug trial of marijuana-rights activist Pamela Snowhite Davis.
"This order, I trust, is self-explanatory," he told the lawyers, who appeared surprised at the missive.
Two weeks ago, Judge Beck issued copies of the order to lawyers in the first-degree murder trial of James Howard VanMetre III. He gave the lawyers a longer explanation of the order and took pains to remind the press it did not apply to them.
While almost every judge in the state has admonished attorneys not to contact jurors, the written court order is unusual, at least in the Fifth Judicial Circuit of Maryland, which includes Carroll, Anne Arundel and
A law clerk for Circuit Administrative Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr. said Friday that he had never heard of such an order and that, to his knowledge, it is not used elsewhere in the circuit.
But Carroll County's jury selection process is different from that used in the circuit's two other counties. In Howard and Anne Arundel, jurors who serve in one trial are excused after the trial is concluded. In Carroll, even if potential jurors are picked for a trial, they are required to remain in the jury pool for a month.
No one has objected to the orders so far.
"We like to talk to juries afterward to ask them how they viewed our handling of the trial," said Carroll State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman. "The order addresses that issue, giving us an opportunity to talk to them right after the trial."
The only limitation Mr. Hickman sees is that it delays his office's written juror surveys, which had been mailed shortly after each jury trial concluded. "I guess we'll just wait until after their term now," he said.
Westminster defense attorney Judith S. Stainbrook, who represents Ms. Davis, calls the order "bizarre."
"The judges are simply addressing a problem in their jurisdiction," said Ellicott City defense attorney Ronald Hogg, who represents convicted Carroll murderer Michael C. Bryson Sr. "It wouldn't bother me in the least. If I had a problem with the order, I would raise the issue with the judge."