Before the jury in former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s defamation suit against The New York Times ruled unanimously in favor of the Times on Tuesday, some jurors had received potentially contaminating information.
According to Politico, U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff of the Southern District of New York announced outside the courthouse on Monday that he planned to throw away the case regardless of the jury’s decision.
The judge, an appointee of former President Bill Clinton, said Palin’s team failed to adequately prove the Times had defamed her.
When he made this announcement, the jury was still deliberating. One day later, the jury unanimously agreed with Rakoff and said Palin failed to meet the standard of evidence for a libel suit involving a public figure.
However, one of Rakoff’s law clerks told him some of the jurors had received push notifications on their phones when Rakoff announced his plans to dismiss the case on Monday, Politico reported.
“These jurors reported that although they had been assiduously adhering to the Court’s instruction to avoid media coverage of the trial, they had involuntarily received ‘push notifications’ on their smartphones that contained the bottom-line of the ruling,” Rakoff wrote in a Wednesday order.
According to Politico, multiple legal experts raised concerns about the judge’s decision to announce his intentions while the jury was still deliberating.
The report said they felt this action “raised the prospect that jurors would learn of his decision and that it might prompt them to side with the Times regardless of their view of the evidence.”
Rakoff dismissed these accusations in the order.
“The jurors repeatedly assured the Court’s law clerk that these notifications had not affected them in any way or played any role whatever in their deliberations,” he wrote.
In an interview with Bloomberg News, Rakoff further defended his Monday announcement.
“I’m disappointed that the jurors even got these messages, if they did,” he said. “I continue to think it was the right way to handle things.”
George Freeman, a former lawyer for the Times, said this is not the first controversy the judge has faced.
“[Rakoff] acts in a very clever and efficient way, but sometimes not in strict accord with the procedural rules, and that can be troublesome,” Freeman said, according to The Wall Street Journal.
In the Wednesday order, Rakoff said he had informed both sides of his plans and neither side had objected to the timing.
“The Court also notes that when it proposed to the parties, during oral argument on Monday morning, to render its Rule 50 decision later that day but to permit the jury to continue deliberating so that the Court of Appeals would have the benefit of both the Court’s legal determination and the jury’s verdict, no party objected to this plan,” he wrote.
This is a major problem and could substantially change the impact of the case on appeal. In this case, Judge Rakoff effectively supplied both the instructions and the answers for the jury…https://t.co/AegKUf430v
— Jonathan Turley (@JonathanTurley) February 17, 2022
While Palin’s attorneys did not issue any official comment following Wednesday’s order, lead lawyer Ken Turkel said after the ruling on Tuesday an appeal was not out of the question, Politico reported.
“We obviously have our own view of the evidence and the law and the facts that came out during this trial,” Turkel said.
“We’re going to evaluate all of our options for appeal, all of our options for further motions practice in court at the trial level.”