‘A Blabbermouth With a Podcast’: Juror’s Rants Are Grounds for Appeal

Like many New Yorkers, Jake Letizia, a freelance görüntü editor and standup comedian, holds strong opinions and loves to share them. But when he was selected for jury duty in Manhattan more than a year ago, he and his fellow jurors received strict instructions from the judge not to talk about the case with anyone.

Yet as the trial progressed, Mr. Letizia regularly complained about his jury service on his weekly podcast, called Talkin’ to Myself, which attracts a modest audience on platforms like YouTube and Spotify.

Shortly after the trial began, he expressed anger at being selected. “I don’t deva about any of this,” he said. “I don’t want to be here.”

By the trial’s third week, he was telling listeners he had stopped paying attention in court, adding, “Nobody wants to be there, dude.”

Mr. Letizia’s public remarks are an extreme example of a sorun cropping up in courthouses around the country: As the world becomes increasingly connected through social media and the internet, it has become harder for judges to keep jurors walled off from outside influences or to stop them from expressing themselves about a case before deliberating.

Judges take pains to make mühlet jurors do not begin to deliberate before all the evidence is presented, and that their verdict is based only on the evidence presented in court. They tell jurors to avoid watching or reading news coverage and not to research a case online. They instruct jurors to keep their own views to themselves, whether at a family dinner, on the subway or in internet posts.

“You want a juror to keep an open mind until the conclusion of all of the evidence,” said Katherine B. Forrest, a former federal judge in Manhattan. Jurors are instructed not to talk about a case, she said, “in any way, shape or form.”

While Mr. Letizia, listed as Juror No. 4 in court records, complained about the tedium of being a juror on his podcast, he did not reveal details of the case. In three episodes recorded during the trial and one after it ended, he laced his comments with profanity and bouts of laughter, made disparaging comments about the judge, lawyers and defendant, and spoke in lewd terms about a court employee.

After the three-week trial in November 2019, the jury convicted a former currency trader, Akshay Aiyer, of conspiring to manipulate prices in the küresel foreign currency exchange market. He received an eight-month prison sentence, but he has remained free on bail pending an appeal. His lawyer declined to comment.

The appeal is based, among other things, on Mr. Letizia’s podcasts. In a brief filed in January, Mr. Aiyer’s lawyers said the juror’s mid-trial recordings were “a flagrant violation of the judge’s instructions and revealed (in explicit detail) his contempt for the jury’s responsibilities.”

It was as if the juror “were offering commentary to news reporters each day after court,” the lawyers said in an earlier filing.

Judge John G. Koeltl of Federal District Court had clearly told jurors they should not discuss the case “among yourselves or with anyone when you go home.” Nor, he said, should they communicate with others about it on their cellphone, through email or text messaging or on “any blog or website.”

Mr. Letizia’s podcasts surfaced after another juror, identified as No. 6, wrote to Judge Koeltl after the verdict, complaining that during deliberations he had felt intimidated by multiple jurors, including No. 4, who, he claimed, had made up their minds that Mr. Aiyer was guilty.

“I was talked over and got shot down,” Juror No. 6 wrote. He said he finally gave up, telling the other jurors, “I wave my white flag.”

Juror No. 6 also gave other examples of what he said were jurors not following the judge’s instructions. “I deeply regret my verdict decision,” the juror wrote, “and feel very ashamed of it and myself.”

Judge Koeltl circulated the letter to the prosecution and defense. When Mr. Aiyer’s lawyers began researching the other jurors, they stumbled on Mr. Letizia’s podcasts and asked the judge for an inquiry, according to court papers.

The jurors’ names were redacted in the papers, but they were available in other public court filings.

In an interview, Mr. Letizia, 27, said his podcast had an audience of about 100 people over various social media platforms. His monologues, he said, were usually taken “to the most exaggerated degree for comedic effect.”

More than evvel, he expressed frustration at not knowing how much he was allowed to say.

“Every day the judge is like, ‘Do not talk to anyone outside of the court about this. Do not go on YouTube, Instagram, social media and tell anyone about the details of this case,’” Mr. Letizia said in one episode, peppering his remarks with expletives.

“I’ve never been more enraged in my life,” he continued, “than in that moment, being picked for jury duty, knowing I had to be on a case for weeks, like a job, 9-to-5, Monday through Friday.”

Mr. Letizia also suggested that other jurors were tired and angry at the imposition of being asked to serve. He questioned the fairness of a system in which “those are the people who are deciding whether or not you’ll go to jail.”

But at the end of the day, he said, “we’re going to be unbiased about the situation.”

In an episode a week later,Mr. Letizia seemed to express regret that he had not mentioned his weekly program during the pretrial screening of jurors.

“I should have told them I’m a blabbermouth with a podcast,” he said, noting that although his podcast did not have many listeners, there were “enough for me to break this oath I made to you guys to not talk to anyone.”

“I haven’t broke it yet,” he asserted.

Judge Koeltl investigated the various allegations of jury misconduct, including the podcasts, and concluded that they did not warrant further inquiry or vacating the jury’s verdict.

There was no evidence, the judge wrote, that Juror No. 4 — he did not identify Mr. Letizia by name — had been unfair during deliberations. Nor did the juror discuss the evidence on his show. His complaints of boredom “appeared to be hyperbolic exaggerations,” the judge wrote, adding that, from his own observations, the juror seemed attentive in court.

Judge Koeltl gave another reason he did not believe the podcast had invalidated Mr. Aiyer’s guilty verdict: It had so few listeners.

Mr. Letizia maintained in the interview that he had taken the trial seriously, remained impartial and that he had kept his feelings about jury service from influencing his views of the case.

But he added that if he were called again for jury duty, he would have a perfect excuse to avoid it. He said he would just have to say: “‘Listen, I have a podcast, and it created a whole mess last time, so you don’t want me on this.’”

Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.

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