Preparing jurors for Blagojevich retrial

February 25, 2011

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(WBEZ/file)
The judge in Rod Blagojevich's retrial is considering ways to protect jurors from the post-trial media circus.

Federal Court Judge James Zagel is trying to bring some order to the media circus that will no doubt follow the verdict in the retrial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.  After his first trial reporters flooded jurors with calls to find out why they were deadlocked on 23 of the 24 counts against the former governor.  They did convict him on one count of lying to the FBI.

In high profile cases, federal judges along with the U.S. Marshall's service in Chicago often open up a courtroom so reporters can ask jurors about their verdict.  To keep order, there's only one camera and one mic and jurors sit as a group in the jury box.  Reporters ask questions and jurors speak one at a time.  Judge Zagel made that offer in Blagojevich's trial, but jurors didn't want to talk.  Steve Wlodek explains, "We were all exhausted, we wanted to get home, it was late in the day."

But in hindsight Wlodek says that was probably a mistake because he spent most of the night talking to individual reporters.  (I talked to him until almost 11 pm.)

Another Blagojevich juror, James Matsumoto says he wished Zagel had encouraged them to talk at the courthouse.  He says Zagel offered them the opportunity to address the media in a courtroom but the judge neither encouraged nor discouraged it.  Matsumoto says if the media got some information it would probably lessen the pressure on jurors the night of the verdict.  Matsumoto says the media and public deserve to know how the jury made their decision.

Zagel is considering keeping the jurors anonymous until a day after the verdict for the governor's upcoming retrial scheduled for April 20th.  Zagel has also floated the idea of giving jurors 'no trespassing' signs to fend off reporters but Wlodek says that wouldn't be very effective.  "I had calls at my parent's house, I had calls at work, I had calls at home on my cell phone, my neighbors got called, I mean, there's other ways of getting to people," says Wlodek but he likes the idea of keeping jurors names secret for a day after the verdict so they have a chance to recover from the trial and collect their thoughts before facing the cameras.