Interviews of potential jurors in Michael Blagg murder trial closed to the public

The Daily Sentinel (Grand Junction): Prospective jurors in Michael Blagg’s murder trial who asked to be dismissed from jury duty for hardship or cause Wednesday are expected to be interviewed by attorneys and a Jefferson County district judge today behind closed doors, according to a court administrator.

Hundreds of prospective jurors reported to the Jefferson County Courthouse on Wednesday for the first day of proceedings in Blagg’s trial for the alleged murder of his wife, Jennifer, in 2001.

Jefferson County District Judge Tamara Russell, who has been presiding over the case since Blagg’s original conviction in Mesa County was reversed due to juror misconduct, took the unusual step of barring the public from attending individual voir dire questioning expected to take place today.

Voir dire is a form of questioning by attorneys and a judge to determine whether the prospective juror can deal with issues in a trial fairly.

Jefferson County District Court Administrator Gail Pickarts said Wednesday that Russell informed her voir dire will take place today with prospective jurors who have expressed concern that serving on Blagg’s jury will cause a hardship or who have another reason to request not to serve, and that the questioning would be out of sight of the public. Russell did not issue a written ruling on the matter.

Pickarts said Russell and other judges told her that a judge may close individual voir dire without issuing a written order, and that the step is fairly typical.

Voir dire hearings have been determined by the U.S. Supreme Court to be generally open to the public, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of Press, a Virginia-based nonprofit that provides free legal assistance to journalists. Katie Townsend, the group’s litigation director, wrote in an email Wednesday that a court can only restrict public access to any kind of voir dire questioning for a compelling reason, and only to a limited extent.

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