As potential jurors gathered in the Summit County courthouse one December day for a high-profile trial, an investigator for the prosecutors mingled among them.
He reportedly chit-chatted about his family, life in Roosevelt and spoke highly of the lawyers in the Uintah County Attorney’s Office. He talked about how he was working on the case the jurors were there to hear.
Now, prosecutors say that Uintah County Attorney’s Office investigator Jayson Chamberlain’s conversations may violate the law. He was charged Tuesday with third-degree felony tampering with a juror. If convicted, Chamberlain could face a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison.
The jurors had gathered at the Silver Summit courthouse Dec. 12 at the beginning of a trial for three men accused of raping a 9-year-old girl in Vernal in 2016. (The men would later be acquitted.)
As they waited in the courthouse, one of the potential jurors — who is an attorney and works as a clerk in federal bankruptcy court — became concerned with Chamberlain’s conversations with him and other jurors.
“I heard the investigator say that the judge on the case was a good judge, that the Uintah County Attorney’s Office was a small office with only a few attorneys, that those attorneys were good, and that the County Attorney’s Office was a good place to work,” the juror later wrote in an affidavit filed in court. “As I watched the investigator talking to another prospective juror across the lobby, I quietly opined that I was bothered by his conduct, since the investigator worked for the prosecutor.”
Charging documents add that the man also heard Chamberlain tell jurors he was “there to help” at the courthouse and overheard the investigator asking jurors about their value system, family situation and whether or not they wanted to be on a jury and why. This was information that could have helped the prosecution team in selecting a jury, charges state.
At the end of that day, the judge declared a mistrial — not because of potential juror tampering, but because too few people showed up for jury duty.
The potential juror who had been bothered by Chamberlain’s conduct later talked with the attorney general’s office and defense attorneys.
A state investigator interviewed seven potential jurors, according to charging documents, all recalled having conversations with Chamberlain about everything from his family to his work as a digital forensics expert to the jury selection process. One woman reported that he went to her car for her to get her a snack.
Uintah County Attorney G. Mark Thomas said Wednesday that he didn’t learn about the allegations until February. Chamberlain, who is the county attorney office’s sole investigator, has been on paid administrative leave ever since. He has been with the prosecutor’s office for about seven or eight years, according to Thomas.
“We have not independently reviewed any of the police reports yet,” Thomas said. “We will be doing that in making a determination as to his employment status.”
Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson, whose office is prosecuting the case against Chamberlain, said Wednesday that jury selection is a critical stage of trial and all interactions with potential jurors must take place in front of both sides in the case and the judge.
“In every case, it is important that no lawyer, party or witness have any contact whatsoever with potential jurors or jurors except as allowed by statute,” she said. “It is the duty of all lawyers involved, and their agents and representatives, to insure that the process is a fundamentally fair one."
Defense attorney Loni DeLand said Wednesday that it’s unlikely conversations between the investigator and potential jurors could have happened in other cases in Uintah County, because the jurors in that courthouse are kept in a separate area away from the public. DeLand said Chamberlain “absolutely should have known” he wasn’t supposed to have contact with jurors.
Chamberlain is expected to make his first court appearance Aug. 13.
After the mistrial in Summit County, defense attorneys for the men argued that the charges should be dismissed, in part, because of Chamberlain’s conversations with the potential jurors. A judge refused to toss the case.
The trial was moved to Salt Lake City, and jurors in May found the men not guilty of all charges.
Correction: 6:02 p.m. • An earlier version of this story misspelled Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson's name.