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IT was a reasonable request: Would the judge please let the reporter have the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of the murder-trial jurors? Considerable local attention had focused on the case; the jurors were performing public service; the information was readily available; and the reporter would not approach the jurors until after the verdict. Further, the process by which 12 strangers reached unanimity was central to the administration of justice.

In short, the reporter emphasized, he was only going to help clear up a sociological mystery.

``The individual jurors' information sheets are confidential,'' the judge said. ``But the master rolls, carrying the jurors' names and home addresses, are public records. You can take down the names as the jurors first go into the jury box; then you can get the information from the master rolls.''

``That wouldn't help,'' the reporter answered. ``Even if I'm in the courtroom, the names go so fast, and so many of them don't spell the way they sound that I can never get an accurate list. Anyway, it takes too long to check the rolls and look up numbers in the telephone book. Time is crucial to us; can't you help me out?''

Remembering that news-freshness is a First Amendment right, the judge paused. News people, he thought, always insist (and rightly so) that the press should not act as an arm of government. Now a reporter was asking a judge to do his legwork? Irony apart, the judge faced serious problems.

One advantage of the jury-trial system has always been the participation by a portion of the community in the administration of justice. Because the jury personifies the public, sitting jurors lose their separate identities. Their word is the community's voice, their muteness the community's silence.

In the centuries-old ritual that starts a Massachusetts criminal trial, the clerk or court tells the jurors: ``If [the defendant] is guilty, you will say so; if [the defendant] is not guilty, you will say so. And no more.''

A jury gives no reasons for its decision; it reaches a collective result, announced by the foreperson. When the clerk asks, ``So say you all?'' the mumble of ``Yes'' is the only time the jurors talk; their verdict speaks for them.

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