Judge defends not releasing juror names from Westmoreland sheriff’s mistrial | TribLIVE.com

Judge defends not releasing juror names from Westmoreland sheriff’s mistrial

Rich Cholodofsky
Westmoreland Sheriff Jonathan Held exits the Westmoreland County Courthouse on December 5, 2018. Held is charged with theft and conflict of interest for allegedly diverting public money for his personal use.

The judge presiding over the state’s public corruption case against Westmoreland County Sheriff Jonathan Held on Tuesday defended his decision to refuse a Tribune-Review request to immediately identify jurors who served in the first trial, which ended four months ago.

Senior Common Pleas Court Judge Timothy Creany in a seven-page opinion urged Superior Court judges to affirm his decision that keeps juror names secret until after Held’s retrial. Those 12 people will not be part of the jury in that trial.

Creany, of Cambria County, declared a mistrial in December after jurors failed to reach a unanimous verdict against Held. The two-term Republican sheriff was accused of directing on-duty office staff and deputies to perform campaign activities while on the job.

The jury initially reported it had found Held guilty of a felony count of conflict of interest and a misdemeanor theft offense. When individually polled by the judge, one juror rescinded his verdict.

A retrial has been postponed pending an appeal by Held, who claims the charges against him should be dismissed.

Creany, in his opinion, said the potential release of juror names before a new jury was seated for a retrial could have a “chilling effect” on the potential new jury panel.

“Additionally, because of this relatively short timeframe between the December trial and the retrial, which was originally scheduled for April, we feel that any potential negative implications precipitated by the censorship are minimal, and most certainly outweighed by the defendant’s right to a fair trial,” Creany wrote.

The judge’s decision came as both prosecutors and Held’s defense team said they did not object to releasing the names of the jurors now.

Joe Lawrence, general counsel for Trib Total Media, acknowledged there is a difference in opinion over the law Creany cited in making his ruling. He said the news organization will continue its appeal to overturn the decision.

“Trib Total Media disagrees that the law allows the names of the jurors to be withheld after they have been discharged from duty unless there is a specific finding that closure is essential to preserve higher values and that closure is narrowly tailored to serve that interest. We do not believe that there has been such a finding in this case,” Lawrence said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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