Judge James Zagel won't force two newspapers to hand over reporters' notes related to the trial of convicted powerbroker William Cellini, he decided at a hearing Wednesday.
Cellini was convicted Nov. 1 of trying to shake down a Hollywood producer for a campaign donation for then Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Cellini tried to extort money from “Million Dollar Baby” Producer Tom Rosenberg so that Rosenberg’s investment firm could get a share of the state Teacher Retirement System pension fund.
Afterward, it was revealed that a juror hadn't disclosed two felony convictions. Juror Candy Chiles, who has convictions for drunk-driving and crack cocaine possession, was not in court Wednesday.
Reporters with the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times wrote stories about Chiles, and Cellini's attorneys wanted the notes of any interviews they conducted as part of their request for a new trial. The papers reported Tuesday the judge had ordered them to turn the notes over.
Cellini attorney Dan Webb told Zagel he objected to even having a hearing. He said Zagel should skip the hearing and proceed directly to a new trial for Cellini.
“Under the law, you are not eligible to serve on a federal jury … if you are convicted of a felony,” Webb said. “Why would someone lie to get on a jury unless they have some type of bias? What I want to establish is that she knowingly and willingly lied on these questions.”
Webb noted the irony that he and the government are now on the opposite sides of where they were in the trial of former Gov. George Ryan, who was also represented by Webb. In that case, prosecutors got a woman thrown off the jury because she concealed her arrest record.
Webb said he plans to subpoena the juror to appear for a hearing on Friday morning, according to the Associated Press.
Zagel ruled Wednesday that the notes don't have to be produced, and he ruled the reporters don't need to appear in court to testify for the time being. He left open the possibility of calling them in the future.
Zagel also postponed a hearing on whether Chiles' criminal record entitles Cellini to a new trial because the juror in question was hospitalized. Zagel said she had called his office Tuesday to say she was in the hospital and would not be able to attend.
Zagel suspended the hearing until Chiles appears in court, possibly later this week.
After Cellini was found guilty, Tribune reporter Annie Sweeney wrote about her exchange with the juror in which Sweeney asked her about the felony convictions and the woman refused to discuss them. Sun-Times reporter Maudlyne Ihejirika also interviewed the juror but there was no discussion of the woman’s arrest record.
Zagel ruled there would be no benefit in compelling either paper’s reporters to appear in court or turn over notes.
“There’s no reason to require them to appear,” Zagel said, adding that any additional detail Webb might find in Sweeney’s notebook about the interview, which she already wrote about, would be “trivial.”
Zagel assured Webb that “having seen reporters’ notebooks” there was likely little fodder to be found that would help Webb make a case.
Journalism watchdog groups expressed relief Wednesday that Zagel dropped, at least for now, efforts to compel reporters to turn over their notes.
“We are independent witnesses to the news and not arms of the court — this is an action not only journalists should celebrate but anyone who cares about a free press,” said Stephen Franklin, president of the Chicago Headline Club, the country’s largest chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
No details were released on the juror's condition.
(The Sun-Times Media Wire contriuted to this report.)