On Thursday, Judge Bruce Schroeder sent "shockwaves" through the courtroom when he banned MSNBC from the courtroom for the remainder of the Kyle Rittenhouse trial because one of their freelancers allegedly tried to contact jurors the night before. Fox News reported:
"The jury in this case is being transported from a different location in a bus with windows covered … Last evening a person who identified himself as James J. Morrison, and who claimed that he was a producer with NBC News, for MSNBC … police, when they stopped him, because he was following in the distance of about a block and went through a red light, pulled him over and inquired of him what was going on and he gave that information and stated that he had been instructed by Mrs. [MSNBC booking producer Irene] Byon to follow the jury bus."
Schroeder said the matter is "under further investigation" but MSNBC won’t be allowed in his courtroom for the duration of the trial.
"He was ticketed for violating a traffic control signal, he’s not here today from what I’m told and I have instructed that no one from MSNBC News will be permitted in this building for the duration of this trial," Schroeder said. "This is a very serious matter and I don’t know what the ultimate truth of it is but, absolutely, it would go without much thinking that someone who is following the jury bus, that is an extremely serious matter and will be referred to the proper authorities for further action."
NBC News did not immediately respond when asked if Byon instructed the man to follow the jury.
🚨🚨🚨 Judge Schroeder: Kenosha police reported someone followed the bus carrying the Rittenhouse jurors last night while claiming to work for MSNBC. It is under investigation. No one working for MSNBC will be allowed inside the courthouse for the duration of the trial.— Julio Rosas (@Julio_Rosas11) November 18, 2021
As Dan McLaughlin points out, the removal of MSNBC from the courtroom highlights the delicate balance that should be struck between public access to a trial and the right to a fair trial:
Public access to trials is an important value, but criminal trials do not exist for the purpose of entertaining the public or feeding culture war. They exist to provide due process of law. Nothing in a murder case is more important than a fair trial. The accused, facing serious punishment for a grave crime, needs that fairness. The public, demanding justice for a grave crime, deserves it. Anything in a courtroom that seeks to derail a fair trial can and should be forcibly restrained or kicked out of the courtroom. That is why judges yell at prosecutors and toss their evidence. It is why defendants who menace the witnesses or the jury sometimes end up bound, gagged, or taped to their chairs. And it is why media outlets who threaten a fair trial lose their right to be there.
Judge Bruce Schroeder, the veteran trial judge overseeing the Kyle Rittenhouse case, understands that; indeed, he has a long reputation as a judge who is unusually solicitous of the rights of criminal defendants. He has now banned MSNBC from his courtroom after a man claiming to be an NBC producer was arrested for following a bus full of jurors, apparently in order to photograph them. NBC News admitted that the man was with the network, but denied that he had taken photos.
[G]iven the national publicity this trial has received, the vitriolic arguments over it, and MSNBC’s hostility to the entire process, it was entirely reasonable for Judge Schroeder to conclude that it was a threat to a fair trial to have NBC News tailing the jurors and creating, at a minimum, a perception that the jurors would have their identities splashed across national TV by a media outlet bent on directing anger at them. The national political media is not, as it sometimes styles itself, the only people with rights that need protecting.
There have also been concerns about threats to Judge Schroeder's safety.
The safety of juries is integral to the U.S. justice system, and Judge Schroeder was right to signal the importance of that principle by expelling MSNBC.