Las Vegas Sun

August 22, 2014

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Editorial: An honest answer is contempt?

It took Chief District Judge Gene Porter almost no time at all Friday morning to decide that a woman who had been ordered to appear before him was not guilty of contempt of court. The decision was so obvious to Porter that he didn't even wait for the woman's defense attorney to finish her argument. We would have made the same decision.

The woman, who is black, had appeared as a prospective juror in the courtroom of Judge Donald Mosley. Jury selection was under way for the trial of a black man accused of murder. Mosley asked the woman if she had any racial prejudices. The court transcript, obtained by Sun reporter Erica Johnson, reveals that the woman was frank in telling Mosley that she didn't trust white people or the police. Frank, but not disorderly, disruptive, boisterous, disrespectful, disobedient or any of the other terms that legally define contempt of court.

Nevertheless, Mosley ordered the woman to return Friday to the chief judge's courtroom for a hearing to see if she would be held in contempt. Prior to that order he had dismissed her from the jury and had told a bailiff: "You're instructed, if she tries to leave, cuff her." Then, to the woman, Mosley said, "You sit down, ma'am. I'll let you know when it's time to leave." Later he told the woman, "By virtue of your responses to my questions and that of counsel I have concluded that you are willfully attempting to obstruct this procedure." He told her that if she didn't appear Friday, "I guarantee you a warrant will issue and we'll be at your jobsite taking you out in cuffs."

In our judgment, Mosley should have simply dismissed the woman from jury duty, as she obviously could not have rendered an impartial judgment. The extreme that he went to reflects badly on his own judgment. We cannot imagine what motivated him to so exceed his authority. The woman was asked a question and she gave an honest answer. Where is the contempt? There have been many cases where jurors have concealed their true prejudices and the result has been hung juries. For justice to prevail, for juries to be impartial, prospective jurors must not be intimidated into providing only those answers they think the judge wants to hear.

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