Blago judge may get jurors 'no trespassing' signs

February 24, 2011 2:47:39 PM PST
Judge James Zagel said he is determined to protect the privacy of jurors selected to serve in former governor Rod Blagojevich's next trial.

At a hearing Thursday, Zagel said he may give jurors "no trespassing" signs to post at the homes. He said he is concerned prospective jurors may fear "the onslaught of a rapacious media," which could ultimately diminish the jury pool.

Shielding jurors from outside influence is a judge's key responsibility during a trial, but should a juror's name in a public trial be kept private -- even temporarily -- after a verdict is returned?

In some cases, like organized crime trials, the names of jurors are never revealed. In the public corruption trial of Rod Blagojevich, the jurors were anonymous during the proceedings, but their names were revealed after the verdict. What followed next did not please Judge Zagel.

Some of the jurors chose to talk about the deliberations, but others declined. And some called police complaining that reporters were calling and ringing doorbells at all hours, and in one case, there was a helicopter hovering over one juror's home.

This time around, Judge Zagel is considering withholding the names of the jurors until 12 hours after the verdict is read.

"This is a balancing act. the judge has to balance the safety and integrity of the jury versus the press and public right to know what's going on in court," Professor Leonard Cavise, DePaul College of Law, said.

Jurors are under no legal obligation to explain their decisions, but especially in high profile, historic cases with a compelling public interest, there is an expectation that they will talk and immense pressure if they don't.

The Blagojevich defense team said as far as it's concerned the jurors' names in the ex-governor's second trial can be kept anonymous forever.

"If someone takes the time to serve on a jury, they should be able to say look I made my decision and I don't want to talk about it. On the other hand, as Judge Zagel says, if someone chooses to talk afterward, they should be able to do that," Blagojevich attorney Sheldon Sorosky said.

Jurors in the George Ryan trial were invited to speak in the courthouse immediately after the verdict, and some of them did. Blagojevich jurors initially chose not to, but some talked later.

Cavise suggests that jurors in the Blagojevich retrial will know or should be told about post verdict expectations. He said the best path may be not to wait.

"It's like, 'Here I am. You wanna talk to me right now. I'll tell you as best I can. There's gonna come a point when I'm not gonna talk to you anymore so take advantage of this now,'" Cavise said. " That's right. That's what they should do."

Judge Zagel said Thursday in court that he told jurors in the first Blagojevich corruption trial that they could talk to reporters after the verdict in a specially designated room in the courthouse, but they elected not to. He said he will do the same after the second trial.

AP: Judge drops 3 charges against Blago

Also on Thursday, the Associated Press said Judge Zagel granted a request from prosecutors to drop three of the 23 charges against Blagojevich in the former governor's corruption retrial.

Blagojevich, 54, said he believes dropping those charges -- which include racketeering, racketeering conspiracy and wire fraud -- is a step toward clearing his name. However, prosecutors said it will simplify the case against him in the April retrial.

The jurors in Blagojevich's first trial convicted Blagojevich of a single count-- lying to the FBI, but were deadlocked on the 23 other charges. They told prosecutors many of those charges were hard to follow.

Blagojevich's retrial is scheduled for April. He is accused of trying to trade or sell a Senate appointment.

"The government dismissed some charges. Maybe the government thinks Blagojevich is innocent. I don't know," said Blagojevich attorney Sheldon Sorosky.

Some legal experts say they don't believe the dropped charges signify a victory for the impeached former governor. They say all of the allegations cited under the racketeering count would be included somewhere in the remaining charges.