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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 26, 2006

Judges to explain closed-door questioning of Jones jurors

By Ken Kobayashi
Advertiser Courts Writer

State judges will confer and issue a written explanation of why the questioning of jurors in the Daniel Jones sexual assault trial on Wednesday afternoon was held in private rather in the courtroom open to the public.

Derrick Chan, the administrative criminal judge for Circuit courts, yesterday heard arguments by Advertiser attorney Jeffrey Portnoy objecting to Circuit Judge Virginia Crandall conducting the hearing in her chambers with the defense attorneys, the prosecutor, a court reporter and Jones.

The hearing included individual questioning of the jurors.

Portnoy argued that the closure without at least a hearing to give the media and public a chance to object is unconstitutional based on federal and Hawai'i court cases.

He said the public still doesn't know what happened during the closed session in the high-profile court case.

The hearing involved a note from the jurors during their deliberations, but the lawyers involved in the case did not want to disclose the nature of the communication or what happened during that session.

Myron Takemoto, Jones' lawyer, told Chan that he cannot speak for Crandall, but said the judge noted that jury communications are not considered public at this point.

Portnoy said Crandall's reasoning for the closure may be valid, but court cases require that, at a minimum, she hears objections before closing the proceedings to the public.

He said the bigger issue now is to avoid a repeat of judges closing court proceedings without first conducting a hearing and asked for a written finding of Crandall's ruling so that he could possibly challenge the decision.

Chan said he will confer with Crandall and the media will receive the "appropriate findings."

Jones, 21, a former instructor at an 'Aiea dance studio, is charged with 18 counts of first-degree and third-degree sexual assault. He is accused of molesting five girls, ages 12 to 15 at the time, who were students at the studio in 2004 and 2005.

The jury received the case May 17. The panel has deliberated for nearly seven days following a three-week trial. Jurors are scheduled to return to the courthouse today to resume deliberations.

Reach Ken Kobayashi at kkobayashi@honoluluadvertiser.com.