Cross-posted from Media Law Blog:
I just read the opinion of the district court judge in Illinois who, in late July, denied a motion by the Illinois Broadcasters’ Association, Illinois Press Association, the Chicago Tribune, and the New York Times to release the names of jurors, upon being seated, in former Governor Blagojevich’s and his brother’s criminal trial.
Judge Zagel held, among other things, that the notoriety of this trial posed too great a risk that jurors would receive improper outside contact if their names were revealed before a verdict was handed down.
It wasn’t until I read the opinion today that I stumbled across this sentence: “It is true that the possibility of jurors being inappropriately contacted by phone is not a new one, but the possibility of contact by email or through social networking sites is relatively recent, and the ubiquity of these media is astounding.”
In other words, the presumption in favor of disclosing jurors’ names was overcome, in part, because jurors have email and Twitter accounts. While most of Judge Zagel’s reasoning centers around the media frenzy regarding the trial and the notoriety of the well-coiffed ex-governor and reality television star, I find it problematic that a general plethora of modern communication tools — a reality in every trial that will likely only get more “astounding” with time — can be used to decimate the presumption toward disclosure.
Undoubtedly, the visual exhibits included in the opinion makes Judge Zagel’s decision all the more amusing.
In the opinion, Judge Zagel disclosed the various ways in which he personally has been bombarded by messages to make the point that jurors would likely receive similar communication.
For example, he received one call with the following message: “F#@k you, Judge Zagel. You f#@king arrogant bitch ass mother f#@ker. F#@k you, f#@k you, James B. Zagel. F#@k you.” Sounds like somebody’s been taking poetry classes from Rod Blagojevich! Of course, the call transcript did not include any #’s or @’s because you can’t speak those symbols.
He also received a call explaining that “the federal government has developed a new kind of electronic where they can copy exactly the voice of someone and then pretend that they are that person.’” Sounds like somebody’s watching the second season of Heroes!
The judge also received a “letter, claiming to be from President Barack Obama (written on a facsimile of White House stationery, though postmarked Cedar Rapids, Iowa), … that pursuant to his executive powers, the President has decided to dismiss Defendant Rod Blagojevich and has ordered me to close the case against him.”
These exhibits were included in the opinion:
I know that our country is going through tough economic times, but you would think that the White House would be able to afford printed envelopes or some return address labels. The March of Dimes gives those things away!
Best of all, the judge received an email from “the King of Japan” asking the court to arrange for the collection of $200,000 that Gov. Blagojevich promised to leave in an envelope for “her.”
If I were in a juror in the Blagojevich retrial, I’d probably be grateful for this decision to avoid the harassment that might befall me and my family.
That said, I’d probably endure all the lunacy if I knew I could talk to the person who is not only Japan’s first king, but Japan’s first female king!