Free the BP jurors

The SE Texas Record Sep. 29, 2007, 11:47am

Campaigning for a slot on the Texas Supreme Court, Susan Criss dubs herself the "blogging judge."

From her seat on the district bench in Galveston, Criss holds virtual court via a weblog she's named As the Island Floats. Here, the ex-prosecutor celebrates "sharing her thoughts on history, the law, and day-to-day observations."

Don't miss it. Really.

Surely, a judge happy to blather on about her own prolific blathering has some respect and appreciation for free speech and its benefits to American society. So how might Criss rationalize her own unrestricted gabbing with her slapping a muzzle on others?

Last week, Judge Criss made the unprecedented move of trying to silence discharged jurors from four recently-settled civil lawsuits versus oil giant BP. She demanded they not to speak to reporters until "all 1,200 pending lawsuits" against the oil giant are resolved.

Cheered on by plaintiff's lawyer Brent Coon of Beaumont, Criss rationalized that juror words might taint the jury pool.

Boy, is that rich. Especially coming from Mr. Coon, who has literally made a living playing the press against BP. By his rules, plaintiff's lawyers can bash a defendant and make unsupported assertions to newspapers all they wish. But jurors? That would taint the jury pool.

As for Judge Criss, she didn't seem so concerned when she had the actual jury pool in her courtroom a few weeks ago; when Mr. Coon was desperately trying to "taint" them live, right in front of her face.

Refreshing memories, Coon unconscionably displayed an Enron logo and a famous picture of tobacco executives testifying before Congress on two screens behind him as he spoke to 200 prospective jurors. Criss should have held him in contempt of court and dismissed the group. She didn't.

To hazard an idea why, just check out her latest blog post, "An Important Message from Judge Susan Criss," dated Sept. 27.

"The right to a jury trial has been guaranteed by our state and US Constitutions," Criss wrote. "Yet too many judges and lawmakers have whittled that right away in the name of a manufactured crisis called 'tort reform.'"

Apparently, that Austin ambition glittering in her eye, Judge Criss is straining to impress a certain crowd.

It's called the Texas trial bar, which wouldn't appreciate some chatty juror clogging up the cash register potential of its horde of remaining BP cases.

Pontificate all she wants on her own time, Judge Criss should reserve her campaigning for the campaign trail. She was elected to the court to serve the public, not plaintiff's lawyers.

Here's hoping a higher court swiftly overturns Criss' self-serving ruling and frees the BP jurors to speak without consequences. It's in everyone's interest to hear what they have to say.

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