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One thing we never do is comment on pending court cases. Our staff provides detailed and unbiased coverage of courtoom testimony, arguments and drama.
The Sacramento Bee has no such scruples. It commented on the Supervisor Ray Nutting trial before it was concluded. In fact, it sought to sway the jury toward its opinion. We don’t question the Bee having an opinion about this trial. We question expressing it before its conclusion.
The editorial writer, we have been informed, apparently attended part of a day’s proceedings, but did not attend closing arguments when both sides provide the most concise summary of the issues at trial.
From that incomplete slice of observation came an editorial calling it a political prosecution. But the real clinker was the final paragraph of the editorial: “The testimony in the trial is over and the case is now being deliberated by the jury. One would hope the jurors see through the political fog emanating from this case and return a verdict commensurate with the transgression.” And the editorial had already concluded, “Clearly, Nutting is guilty of bad paperwork.”
So, the jury got the case on Thursday, May 8, and the Bee’s editorial broadly hinting at a verdict for the jury to adopt, appeared Friday, May 9, when the jurors had gone back to their normal lives until returning for deliberations five days later on Tuesday, May 13, rendering a verdict on Wednesday, May 14. Of course, they are instructed not to read anything about the case. Realistically, though, it is likely the jurors would have read newspapers on Friday, especially an editorial that featured a color photograph of Nutting.
This is not just a case of poor timing on the part of the Bee, but an obvious effort to influence the jury. We find this ethically a poor choice.