Ed Meyer

Two coverings placed on a Beacon Journal coin box to prevent jurors in a capital murder trial from seeing an article about the case as they entered the Summit County Courthouse on Wednesday morning were removed by the judge after the newspaper objected to the actions.

Common Pleas Judge Tom Parker, who is handling the penalty phase in the aggravated murder trial of 20-year-old Shawn Eric Ford Jr., ordered the removal of the second covering — a cardboard cutout taped over the coin box window — during the lunch break after seeing that the story was not visible above the newspaper fold.

Public access to newspapers inside the coin box, which stands under a canopy over the main courthouse entrance, remained unobstructed for the rest of the day.

After court was recessed early Wednesday evening, Parker said he took the steps to shield Ford’s jurors from viewing the story because he felt it was his responsibility to ensure that both sides “get a fair trial with an untainted jury.”

“I didn’t take any steps to prevent the newspapers from being sold. That wasn’t my intent,” Parker said.

“I just wanted to make sure the jury didn’t see the article. Our jury enters and exits the courthouse going right past the newspaper box, and we happen to have several smokers on the jury. When they go out for smoke breaks, they walk right by the newspaper box.”

The story in question was about a juror who was removed by Parker from deliberations last week over what he said were concerns that she had previous “Friends” connections with Ford prosecutors on Facebook.

Parker said he learned about the story Tuesday night, then contacted his bailiff in the morning, without seeing a physical copy of the paper, and instructed the bailiff to ensure that the story could not be seen in the box.

A court official then had a black garbage bag placed over the entire coin box, Parker said.

As soon as he learned about what happened, Parker said he ordered the garbage bag to be taken off. The cardboard covering was then placed on the coin-box window.

Beacon Journal lawyer Karen Lefton said she contacted Parker over the lunch hour after learning about the matter and objected to it.

“Our position is that the Beacon Journal strongly objects to anyone obscuring its box and feels that there are other reasonable steps a judge may take that are less invasive of the First Amendment and the public’s right to know,” Lefton said.

Parker and other Common Pleas judges in capital cases routinely and regularly instruct jurors that, under Ohio law, they cannot view any type of pretrial publicity about a case.

Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or emeyer@thebeaconjournal.com.