Monday, January 28, 2008

Dallas Grand Juror Blogging-DMN

Blogging about Ursuline Academy teacher's sex case may spell trouble for grand juror

Dallas: DA investigates as ex-Ursuline teacher's attorneys seek hearing

07:45 PM CST on Thursday, January 24, 2008
By JENNIFER EMILY / The Dallas Morning News

A grand juror who last month helped indict a teacher accused of having sex with a student is now under investigation for posting comments about the case on a blog, according to court records.

David B. Novinski It is illegal for grand jurors to make details of their proceedings public.

John Grau, the chief prosecutor in the intake/grand jury division, declined to say whether the grand juror would be charged with contempt of court. He said the Dallas County district attorney's office was looking into the postings and that he couldn't comment.

But the teacher's defense attorneys, David Finn and Toby Shook, are asking for a court hearing regarding the juror's conduct and whether the rights of their client, David B. Novinski, were violated. They want to know if the grand juror investigated the case before Mr. Novinski was indicted, if he shared that information with other jurors and if there are additional postings. No date has been set for a hearing.

On the Web site, the grand juror posted at least 10 entries under the pseudonym "Knows status" between Dec. 19 and Dec. 26. The Web site collects information about teachers accused of sex crimes throughout the country and allows readers to comment.

"I've never heard of anything like this happening before," said Mr. Finn, a former Dallas County judge. "I was shocked when I Googled my client's name and found this site."

Mr. Finn said it was too early to determine whether he would ask the district attorney's office or a judge to dismiss the indictment against Mr. Novinski, who taught at Ursuline Academy. If the indictment is set aside, the district attorney's office could present the case to a new grand jury.

The district attorney's office refused to name the grand juror because prosecutors are required to keep grand jurors' names secret unless a juror is charged with a crime or the name becomes public record through court hearings. Mr. Grau said he had spoken with the grand juror but declined Thursday to detail the conversation.

State law prohibits grand jurors from disclosing "anything transpiring before a grand jury." Violators can be held in contempt of court and jailed for 30 days.

Mr. Grau, who has worked in the district attorney's office since 1985, called the grand juror's blogging unusual and said he hadn't heard of a similar instance.

In addition to a hearing, Mr. Finn is asking for a special prosecutor from outside the district attorney's office to look into any possible wrongdoing by the grand juror. But Mr. Grau said a special prosecutor isn't necessary.

The grand juror is no longer on the panel because its term expired last month.

The grand juror wrote in his last post on the blog that Mr. Novinski's case was first presented to the grand jury in October but the final presentation was in mid-December.

"Also, Novinski & lawyer could make a plea bargain, if they feel that is the right thing to do. No trial," the grand juror wrote. "They (DA's) told us at worse [sic], if it goes to trial, and he is found guilty ... most likely he would get probation."

Mr. Novinski was arrested in July and charged with having an inappropriate relationship with a student. The student was 17, but Texas law prohibits sexual contact between a teacher and a pupil regardless of the student's age. Mr. Novinski worked for seven years in the performing arts department at Ursuline, a private Catholic, all-girls school.

Mr. Grau sent a letter dated Dec. 28 to the grand jurors, telling them to stop posting about the case, according to court records. He also said the DA's office was subpoenaing Internet providers to determine the identity of the poster.

"If you are the person posting comments about matters you handled in your grand jury, stop immediately. That will not remove a previous violation, but it will prevent further violations. You should not be discussing matters that occurred in your grand jury with anyone."

After the letter was sent, the grand juror who posted on the blog contacted Mr. Grau, according to court records. He admitted posting the information and has stopped commenting about the case.

Mr. Finn said that Mr. Grau told him the grand juror was "scared out of his skin."

In his postings, the juror does not give an opinion about the case. Other posters question whether he should talk about the case. He responds that he "took an oath to keep the proceedings of the GJ secret" but can say some things.

"I would LOVE to give my opinion on 'whether novo is guilty.' Only us twelve know our collective opinion. It just has to play out through the courts," the grand juror wrote on Dec. 22. "If I were to say anything more, I could be subject to a GJ indictment, and in now [sic] way whatsoever do I want to contaminate novo's day in court."

David Finn


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