News organizations seek Blagojevich juror names

Five news organizations asked the federal judge who will preside over the corruption trial of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich to abandon his plan for an anonymous jury and make the names of the jurors public.

The media groups, which include The Associated Press, said the public has a right to know who is deciding the case in which the former governor is charged with plotting to sell President Barack Obama's former Senate seat.

"What the law requires is also true as a matter of historical practice -- in the country generally, and in this judicial district specifically, juror names have traditionally been open to the public, absent truly extraordinary circumstances," the news organizations said.

The motion asked U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel, who will preside over the trial, to reverse his plan to empanel an anonymous jury. Those making the request are the Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, The Associated Press, the Illinois Press Association and the Illinois Broadcasters Association.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, Randall Samborn, had no comment.

Jury selection for the trial is to begin Thursday. Blagojevich is charged with scheming to profit from his power as governor to fill the Senate seat Obama vacated to move to the White House. He is also charged with plotting to use his power as governor to engage in a racketeering scheme.

Blagojevich and his brother, Nashville, Tenn., businessman Robert Blagojevich, have both pleaded not guilty.

Zagel had said in announcing his plan last month that with the advent of bloggers it may have become easy to learn the addresses of jurors, creating the temptation to contact them and discuss the case. Such contact would be improper. He said he would release the names after the trial.

A memorandum filed along with the motion from the news organizations said there was no justification involving bloggers for keeping the names secret.

"Such juror anonymity is inimical to this country's long tradition of open trials, and the court certainly has the tools at its disposal to prevent juror contact about the case with bloggers or anyone else," the memorandum said.

"It can hardly be the case that the advent of Internet weblogs is grounds for upending hundreds of years of tradition and jurisprudence," it said.

It noted that at the trial of former Gov. George Ryan, U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer rejected the government's request to conceal the identities of the jurors.

During jury deliberations, the Tribune discovered that jurors had omitted information from their pretrial questionnaires, causing the court to conduct its own inquiry and ultimately leading to the dismissal of two jurors.

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