(CN) – The 7th Circuit ordered hearings to decide whether the names of jurors in Rod Blagojevich’s corruption trial will be released to the public.
Five news organizations, including the Chicago Tribune and The Associated Press, urged U.S. District Judge James Zagel to release the names of the jurors as soon as they are seated to decide the fate of the former governor, who is charged with scheming to sell President Obama’s former Senate seat.
But Zagel ruled that the press has no First Amendment right to the names. The judge has informed jurors that their names will be kept confidential, citing concerns that jurors would be bombarded with public comments that could undermine impartiality.
No formal decision about the release of names was entered on the case docket, and no public announcement has been officially made.
The press want to check the suitability of each juror, presumably to prevent the type of controversy that occurred during the trial of Blagojevich’s predecessor, George Ryan. During that trial, two jurors were replaced during deliberation because they lied about disqualifying convictions on their questionnaires.
The 7th Circuit determined that the lower court can withhold names until the trial’s end, but only with valid justification.
“Anonymous juries are permissible when the juror’s safety would be jeopardized by public knowledge, or the defendant has attempted to bribe or intimidate witnesses or jurors,” the federal appeals court in Chicago explained.
The panel ruled that Zagel must hold hearings, but did not recommend an outcome.
The jurors’ names will remain confidential until a decision is made at the hearings.