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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON

NWA
 


ST. LOUIS COUNTY • Lawyers for Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch filed papers late Monday opposing a grand juror's attempt to speak out about the investigation of the Ferguson police shooting.  MCulloch's lawyers say fears expressed by the juror, who filed the federal lawsuit Jan. 5, are unfounded, that there has been no claim that that he or she wants to talk about anything beyond what McCulloch already released. The prosecutor also says the U.S. District Court lacks jurisdiction and should stay clear of a state court matter.

Grand jurors are generally prohibited from discussing many aspects of their work, which by law is conducted in secret. McCulloch took a rare step of discussing the case in detail after the grand jury did not indict Officer Darren Wilson, who is white, in the controversial killing of Michael Brown, 18, who was black and unarmed.

The juror, identified in documents only as Grand Juror Doe, filed suit anonymously, seeking a judge's approval to speak about the investigation. The suit says that the grand jury documents released by McCulloch “do not fully portray the proceedings before the grand jury” and that the juror wants to challenge McCulloch's “implication that all grand jurors believed that there was no support for any charges.”

The suit criticizes the investigation of    Wilson,suggesting there was a focus on Brown that was a different approach from that taken in other cases the grand jury had heard. It complains of "muddled and untimely” presentation of legal guidelines.

Doe's suit invokes free speech rights and says that Doe wants “to advocate for legislative change to the way grand juries are conducted in Missouri” and be able to talk about the case “with close family members at home.” Allowing Doe to speak could “contribute to the current public dialogue concerning race relations.”

McCulloch, represented by lawyers from the offices of the Missouri Attorney General and the St. Louis County Counselor, responded that federal courts are limited to ongoing “controversy” between the parties, and says that Doe's case should be dismissed.

The filing calls Doe's fears of criminal prosecution by McCulloch “unfounded,” as only one of the four statutes cited by Doe carries criminal penalties, and suggests “claims against (McCulloch) depend entirely upon (the juror's) alleged fear of a criminal prosecution that may never occur.”

Doe's suit makes no claim that the juror plans to disclose evidence or witnesses that have not already been disclosed, the filing says. Self censorship "based on mere allegations of a ‘subjective’ chill resulting from a statute is not enough to support standing ... and ‘persons having no fears of state prosecution except those that are imaginary or speculative, are not to be accepted as appropriate plaintiffs,’” the filing says, quoting prior appeals court decisions.

Should Doe want to go beyond what was already released, McCulloch's lawyers argue, "Such information, especially as it relates to evidence and witnesses, is not Plaintiff’s to disclose, and would pose a clear and present danger to the persons whose identities remain unknown to the public.”

Such disclosure “would be contrary to Missouri law, and would be counter to the state’s interest in promoting a freedom of disclosure before future grand juries,” the filing continues.

Citing another reason for the federal courts to stay out of the case, they say Doe is asking a judge “to issue an injunction that would threaten the continued health and sound functioning of Missouri’s grand jury system. Given the important state issues raised in this case, the Court should abstain from exercising its jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s claims.”

Doe's oath to maintain grand jury secrecy, lawyers say, “is ongoing, and is subject to the continuing jurisdiction of the St. Louis County Circuit Court where Plaintiff received his charge.”

Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, who are among those representing Doe, could not be immediately reached for comment about the filings. But in a prepared statement, ACLU Executive Director Jeffrey Mittman said, “These sorts of filings that attempt to prevent the court from reaching the merits of a case are not uncommon. We are confident this matter will move forward. The goal of the ACLU remains to allow Grand Juror Doe the freedom to provide important information to the public and elected representatives, without punishment by the government.

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