UTICA — An ongoing legal challenge by the Observer-Dispatch to obtain juror questionnaires on file for a 2017 murder trial soon will get a bit more support.

Several major publications are joining the O-D's call for these questionnaires to be released.

"We write respectfully to advise the New York Court of Appeals that we have been retained by several media organizations — including the New York Times, The New Yorker, and Advance Publications — to file an amicus brief in support of The Observer-Dispatch’s pending motion for leave to appeal," wrote Katherine Bolger, an attorney with the New York City-based firm Davis, Wright and Tremaine, in a letter to the court.

It is expected the brief will be filed with the court around Jan. 21. Bolger was unavailable for further comment, however.

An amicus brief — from the Latin "amicus curiae," literally "friend of the court" — is filed by someone who is not party to the case but believes the outcome will affect its interests.

HOW IT STARTED

The Observer-Dispatch challenge began with an October 2017 letter to Oneida County Court requesting juror contact information for the empanelled jury in the People vs. Kaitlyn Conley.

The jury found Conley guilty of first-degree manslaughter but not guilty on a more serious charge of second-degree murder in the 2015 poisoning death of her boss Mary Louise Yoder.

In a 2017 written denial of the records release, Oneida County Court Judge Michael Dwyer wrote: "The court determines that there existed a high likelihood that jury tampering, or the harassment of a juror or jurors, would occur if the residential addresses of the jurors, or other information contained on their questionnaires, was disclosed to the Observer-Dispatch, any other news media organization, or any member of the public while the jury in this matter was still deliberating."

In October 2018 — after plentiful legal arguments from both sides — the case was dismissed by the higher appellate court.

"The criminal procedure law provides no mechanism for a nonparty to intervene or be joined in a criminal case," reads a portion of the dismissal.

ARGUMENT FOR RELEASE

Michael Grygiel, a first amendment attorney representing the Observer-Dispatch's parent company, GateHouse Media, in the matter argues it was never the intent to become part of the criminal case, rather the entire challenge started as a records request.

"The Observer-Dispatch, as a representative for the public, was not permitted to submit an application in the course of a criminal proceeding in order to vindicate the public’s right of access to that proceeding," Grygiel explained.

"It's difficult to reconcile that ruling with the longstanding procedural first-amendment protection of the press to challenge the closure of the criminal proceeding and the sealing of court records used in criminal courts," he continued.

"The rights of access to public information are crucial in our job to report and inform. We welcome and appreciate the support from our fellow news organizations who will bolster our fight to retain these judicial documents, which we feel is warranted and overdue," added Ron Johns, executive editor at the Observer-Dispatch.

Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara declined to comment.

Contact reporter Jolene Cleaver at 315-792-4956 or follow her on Twitter (@OD_Cleaver).