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Eaglin v. McCall

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

August 16, 2017

Adrian T. Eaglin, Plaintiff,
v.
McCall, Sergeant, Defendant.

          ORDER

          PAIGE J. GOSSETT UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter is before the court on remand following the plaintiff's appeal from a jury trial in his civil rights action that resulted in a verdict for the defendant. By order and opinion entered May 10, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the judgment but vacated this court's docket text order overruling the plaintiff's written objection regarding jury questionnaires and remanded “for further proceedings on this issue.” (See Opinion, ECF No. 215; Docket Text Order, ECF No. 179; Plaintiff's Objection, ECF No. 178.) The mandate issued July 10, 2017.

         The issue back before the court stems from the plaintiff's challenge to what he characterizes as the “sealing” of juror questionnaire responses. After the issuance of the court's standard trial notice and instructions (ECF No. 170), the plaintiff filed a “Notice of Objection to Sealing Jury Questionnaires, ” in which he stated: “This Court makes jury questionnaires sealed as a matter of course, including the questionnaires in this case. . . . Mr. Eaglin respectfully objects that it is a violation of statutory law and First Amendment to preclude public access to jury questionnaires that substitute for questioning of the venire in open court.” (ECF No. 178.)[1]

         In accordance with the instructions from the Fourth Circuit, the court reaffirms that the plaintiff's objection should be overruled. The plaintiff's objection rests on two faulty premises: contrary to his characterization, the jury questionnaires at issue have not been “sealed”;[2] nor has public access been “precluded.” Rather, access to the jury questionnaire responses has been governed and permitted pursuant to the terms of 28 U.S.C. §§ 1861, et seq. and the District of South Carolina's Jury Plan, which was promulgated pursuant to that statute and approved by the Fourth Circuit Judicial Council. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1861, et seq.; In re Amended Jury Selection Plan for the Random Selection of Grand and Petit Jurors, No. 3:14-mc-338-TLW (D.S.C. Nov. 19, 2014) (ECF No. 2).

         Pertinent here, § 1863(b)(7) requires a jury plan to “fix the time when the names drawn from the qualified jury wheel shall be disclosed to the parties and to the public.” 28 U.S.C. § 1863(b)(7). The statute specifically states: “If the plan permits these names to be made public, it may nevertheless permit the chief judge of the district court, or such other district court judge as the plan may provide, to keep these names confidential in any case where the interests of justice so require.” Id. Section 1867(f) pertinently requires that the contents of records or papers used by the clerk in connection with the jury selection process shall not be disclosed, except pursuant to the district court's plan. 28 U.S.C. § 1867(f).

         Pursuant to those provisions, the Jury Plan for the District of South Carolina similarly provides, in pertinent part:

DISCLOSURE OF JUROR NAMES AND RECORDS: Names drawn from the qualified jury wheel for petit juries will be available to counsel or a party if proceeding pro se with cases on the relevant trial roster who present an approved request form seven calendar days before the jurors are to appear at the courthouse, provided that the Chief Judge may order the names to be kept confidential in a case or cases when the interest of justice so require. . . .
The contents of records or papers used by the Clerk of Court or her designee in connection with the jury selection process, including juror qualification questionnaires, shall not be disclosed to anyone other than court personnel except as provided in 28 U.S.C. § 1867(f) and in this Plan. The district's comprehensive questionnaire completed by prospective jurors and the jury list are excluded from this disclosure provision with the responses distributed in accordance with the court's Local Rules.
Names of trial jurors shall not be disclosed to the public or media outside of open court, except upon order of the court. A request for disclosure of petit juror names to the public or media must be made to the presiding judge. . . .

See In re Amended Jury Selection Plan, No. 3:14-mc-338-TLW (ECF No. 2-1 at 5-6).[3]

         Thus, the Plan fixes the time, as required by the statute upon which the plaintiff relies, for disclosure of the names drawn from the qualified jury wheel to the parties and the public-seven calendar days before jury selection. Further, contrary to counsel's characterization that the questionnaire responses are “sealed, ” the Plan specifically excludes the comprehensive questionnaires completed by prospective jurors from the provision prohibiting disclosure and expressly provides for their disclosure and distribution in accordance with the court's Local Rules.

         The District of South Carolina's Local Rules in turn provide as follows:

Use of Juror Questionnaires. The court may require potential jurors to respond to written questionnaires and may make the responses available to counsel or parties with cases on the relevant trial roster seven (7) days prior to jury selection. Counsel or any other persons obtaining juror questionnaire responses must ensure that the information contained therein is utilized solely for the purpose of evaluating potential jurors for a pending case and is not disseminated for any other purpose. The clerk of court shall institute procedures to draw these requirements and responsibilities to the attention of persons obtaining the questionnaire responses by completing the Juror Questionnaire ...

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