Saturday, January 31, 2004

Appeals Court: Jailed juror should have had a hearing

By Sharon Coolidge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A Hamilton County Common Pleas judge violated a juror's civil rights when he jailed her for lying to him without first giving her a hearing, the 1st District Court of Appeals ruled Friday.

Rachelle Thomas "may well deserve punishment, but she must have due process of law first," 1st District Court of Appeals Judge Mark Painter wrote.

The Appeals Court also said a contempt charge couldn't be brought against a person unless he or she interfered with the judicial process. It sent the case back to the trial court.

Ken Lawson, Thomas' attorney, said he believes that Judge Dennis Helmick's point had been to show it is wrong to lie in court.

"I'm saying it's equally wrong to deny somebody their right to a hearing," Lawson said.

Thomas, a 30-year-old Forest Park woman, was among a group of prospective jurors gathered May 29 for a civil case in Helmick's courtroom.

Helmick excused her after she said she had to take her son to the doctor. Helmick knew Thomas had written on a jury questionnaire that she had no children, but not wanting to taint other jurors in the room, he excused her.

Later that day he put a warrant out for her arrest.

Helmick jailed her for nine days on a contempt-of-court charge. There was no formal hearing.

Before finishing her jail sentence, Thomas was released on bond, pending the Appeals Court decision.

Helmick said he would leave it up to Lawson whether he or another judge would hold the hearing.



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