(CN) – Judge Richard Posner of the 7th Circuit criticized three of his colleagues for their “perfunctory, confusing and internally inconsistent” decision to order hearings on whether to release the names of jurors in Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s corruption trial.
On July 2, Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook and two other judges ordered U.S. District Judge James Zagel to hold hearings to decide if the jurors’ names should be released to the media.
“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,” Easterbrook had written.
Zagel was concerned that revealing jurors’ names would compromise juror impartiality and would expose them to media harassment. He had promised jurors that their names would be kept confidential until after the trial.
But five news organizations, including the Chicago Tribune and The Associated Press, claimed they were entitled to the information under the First Amendment.
Posner said a member of the court took the rare step of requesting a rehearing before a larger panel of judges. But before all eligible judges could vote on a rehearing, Posner said, Easterbrook amended the panel’s July 2 ruling “to meet some of the concerns” of his colleagues.
“[T]he amendments to the original opinion are perfunctory, confusing, and internally consistent,” Posner wrote, dissenting from the court’s decision not to rehear the case.
“The case is exceptional and the issue presented by the appeal merits the attention of the full court,” he said.
He added that he agreed with Zagel’s “reasonable determination” that jurors’ names should be withheld during trial.
“Given the extremely high profile of this case nationwide as well as in Illinois, and the unusual attention-getting conduct of the principal defendant and his wife, there is no good argument for releasing the jurors’ names before the trial ends,” he wrote.
Posner speculated that the media frenzy surrounding the names could ultimately lead Zagel to declare a mistrial, restarting the jury selection process.
Blagojevich has not objected to juror anonymity. He is accused of trying to sell President Obama’s vacant Senate seat, among other charges of corruption.
Joining Posner in dissent were Judges Michael Kanne, Ann Claire Williams and Diane Sykes.