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Court to decide on release of Blagojevich juror names

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The federal judge presiding over the corruption trial of Rod Blagojevich appears reluctant to release the names of the jurors…

The federal judge presiding over the corruption trial of Rod Blagojevich appears reluctant to release the names of the jurors who will decide the former Illinois governor's fate.

U.S. District Judge James Zagel on Thursday listened to arguments presented both by the government and a media coalition on whether or not the names of jurors empaneled in the trial should become public. The news organizations, including the Chicago Tribune and The New York Times, argued that keeping the names secret violated the public's right to an open court system.

"There are no juror safety issues in this case, and the juror's individual desire for privacy is not sufficient justification by itself to withhold his or her identity," wrote the news organizations in a memorandum to the court.

The government pushed for the names to be kept secret, arguing that the Wednesday arrest of a journalist who was questioning an attorney in the case shows that the media can be disruptive to proceedings.

Judge Zagel appeared to sympathize with the government, stating that it was his duty to protect the identities of the jurors in what he thought to be the most high-profile case since a mass murderer's trial in the 1960s. He indicated that he believed that emotions run much higher in cases involving a public official for whom many people voted, as demonstrated by the angry letters and phone calls he had received.

The judge also pointed to the fact that he had promised the jurors that their names would not be released until after they reached a verdict.

Judge Zagel did propose one possible compromise — releasing the names on the condition that the media would not publish them, yet they would still be able to conduct interviews. Media parties did not indicate that they would support such a compromise, and journalists often see such an arrangement as subjecting themselves to a prior restraint.

The judge is expected to reach a final decision on the release of the names by Monday.