Benson v. Tyson Foods, Inc., No. 17-40161 (5th Cir.) May 1, 2018.
A jury failed to find for Benson in her Americans with Disabilities Act case against Tyson Foods. She appealed from the federal district court’s denial of her request for a new trial and from her lawyer’s request to interview jurors. Both appeals were without merit, the Fifth Circuit has concluded.
Fifth Circuit precedent holds that jurors’ privacy interests outweigh those of litigants’ in conducting juror interviews.
The appellate panel here observed that Fifth Circuit precedent is flawed in its perception that First Amendment press and public rights are distinguishable. However, the Fifth Circuit cautioned that courts ought to consider whether there exists any state interest in inhibiting counsel’s conversations with consenting jurors. If such an interest is found, it must be clearly articulated to ensure conformity to the Constitution and to facilitate appellate review.
Writing separately, Circuit Judge James E. Graves, Jr. opined that the precedent relied upon need not control. Current local rules concerning juror communications may be infirm in that any lawyer communication at all with any juror on any case tried by the lawyer would be forbidden without court approval. That other jurisdictions’ rules are also problematic should serve only to encourage a hard look at the rules’ utility and constitutional propriety.
Judge Graves would have found an abuse of discretion in summarily dismissing the request for jury interviews, but that would not end the matter, for the abuse of discretion would not affect any substantial right Benson might have had in her lawyer’s request for interviews. She had no right to any such request, as her motion for a new trial had been denied.