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Sunday, July 04, 2010

Ind. Courts - "Identities of Blagojevich jurors could be made public"

John Chase reported late Friday in a lengthy story in the Chicago Tribune:

A federal appeals court ruled the judge overseeing former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's corruption trial acted too hastily when he decided to keep secret the identities of jurors.

The three-judge panel ordered U.S. District Judge James Zagel to hold a "prompt" hearing and allow members of the media, including the Tribune, to argue why the jurors' names should be made public before the trial's conclusion.

Zagel had previously ruled the media's request was "untimely" because it came just days before the trial was scheduled to start but before the judge had told jurors their names would be disclosed only after the trial ended. Prosecutors argued that in mid-2009, Zagel had mentioned he was considering keeping the juror names private and that the media should have objected sooner.

But the appellate court agreed with attorneys for the Tribune, The New York Times, The Associated Press and other media outlets that Zagel was wrong to find the Tribune's motion untimely because he never made an official ruling on when jurors' names would be released until after the news media filed their motion.

"People need not intervene in response to musings," wrote Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook, who was joined by Judges Diane Wood and John Daniel Tinder in Friday's opinion. "Had the Tribune moved to intervene in mid-2009, the district court likely would have rejected the motion as premature and told the newspaper to bide its time."

While the appellate court decided in the media's favor, it didn't rule that the jurors' names should necessarily be made public. Indeed, the names are remaining confidential until the hearing is held and a decision is rendered.

Still, throughout the opinion, the judges said that under the common law, there is a presumption of access to the names of jurors as soon as they are seated and that any effort to keep those names secret must be backed by actual evidence.

Here is the Tribune's main page on the Blagojevich trial. And here is the Sun-Times page.

Here is the 7/2/2010 opinion, released in typescript Friday afternoon by Judge Easterbrook, in USA v. Rod Blagojevich.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on July 4, 2010 07:41 PM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions