CHICAGO (CN) — Music critic Jim DeRogatis, alongside The New Yorker magazine for whom he now writes, filed an emergency motion in federal court Tuesday morning seeking to quash a subpoena calling him to testify in R. Kelly's latest trial in Chicago.
Defense attorneys for Kelly's former manager and current co-defendant Derrel McDavid served DeRogatis with the subpoena in early August.
A former reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, DeRogatis is most well known for his two-decade-long coverage of the many legal and ethical scandals surrounding Kelly. His work on the former R&B star's alleged sexual misconduct began in earnest in 2002 when, while working for the Sun-Times, he received one of Kelly's sex tapes from an anonymous sender.
The tape, which DeRogatis and the Sun-Times staff turned over to the Chicago Police Department after viewing it, allegedly showed Kelly having sex with a 14-year-old girl. Since the Chicago trial began, the defense attorneys have tried to undermine the veracity and evidentiary value of the video, citing its poor quality and how often it has allegedly changed hands. But DeRogatis' potential value to the defense goes beyond the 2002 tape.
His R. Kelly coverage has appeared in numerous high-profile news outlets over the last 20 years, including in The New Yorker and the Chicago Tribune. He also published a book called "Soulless: The Case Against R. Kelly" in 2019 summarizing his decades of research into Kelly's alleged sex crimes, including the formation of a nationwide sex "cult" of young girls.
“'R. Kelly likes them young' had long been a rumor on the music scene, almost always whispered in those exact words, by publicists and recording engineers, radio programmers and concert promoters, fellow critics and fans," DeRogatis wrote in "Soulless."
Being such a prominent voice in the ongoing legal saga, DeRogatis has been called to testify in Kelly's trials before - including in the 2008 state trial in Cook County that saw Kelly acquitted of 21 child porn charges. But DeRogatis said Tuesday that he resented being called in to court. He pleaded the Fifth Amendment when testifying in 2008, and said he worked with The New Yorker's attorneys to file the emergency quash motion in district court on Tuesday.
"It's a real work of art," DeRogatis said of the filing.
DeRogatis said in an interview he filed the motion primarily over concerns for journalistic autonomy, arguing that journalists are responsible to the public, not attorneys with the explicit goal of exonerating their client. Forcing journalists to provide testimony in court, he said, endangers the very concept of freedom of the press.
"It sets a precedent that hurts all of journalism," DeRogatis said.
Ironically, DeRogatis himself was accused of endangering journalistic autonomy in 2002 when he and the Sun-Times staff chose to turn Kelly's sex tape over to police.
"A few months [after giving the sex tape to the police], the Ethics Corner column of the journalism trade magazine Editor & Publisher harshly criticized us for these actions. Columnist Allan Wolper excoriated us and our editors, saying we 'had forgotten for a moment that newspapers report to the public, not to the police,'” DeRogatis wrote in his book.
The motion itself also argues that DeRogatis' testimony would be useless in court, claiming his independent research into Kelly's alleged crimes would be considered hearsay under trial rules.
"Here... virtually all knowledge that DeRogatis has that may be relevant to the indictment in this case, if there is any such information, necessarily derives from his third party sources with direct knowledge of the facts and therefore would be inadmissible hearsay," it states.
Besides worries over press freedom, DeRogatis also said Tuesday that he didn't want to testify for fear of endangering several anonymous whistleblower sources he has spoken with over the years. Despite his sex trafficking conviction last year in a Brooklyn federal court, Kelly retains many dedicated supporters. Some of those supporters, through social media, have wished punitive legal action and even bodily harm on his accusers since the Chicago trial began.
"There are whistleblowers who are afraid for telling the truth," DeRogatis said.
He added that he is doubtful the motion will succeed, but that he and The New Yorker had to try anyway.
"We're not optimistic, but it's important to make that stand," he said.
Alternatively, several of the same Kelly supporters that worry DeRogatis criticized him for not taking the stand. They characterized his reluctance to testify as cowardice rather than a principled objection, and said his testimony was necessary for the defense to build its case.
"Jim DeRogatis is a integral part of this entire R. Kelly case, he received a tape with alleged [child porn] back in '02... Jim needs to hit the stand and not plead the 5th this time," one Kelly supporter going by Kaye Wooley tweeted Tuesday.
Another account called simply "R. Kelly fans" similarly tweeted, "Jim DeRogatis is running his mouth regarding R. Kelly on basically every media outlet and on every occasion in the country, but doesn’t want to testify in court? Why is that."
U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber, the Ronald Reagan appointee presiding over Kelly's Chicago federal trial, has not yet ruled on the motion. Complicating matters is that the city's Dirksen Federal Courthouse was unexpectedly closed Tuesday for an unspecified "operational issue," delaying trial proceedings for at least a day. The Court Clerk's Office did not return a request for clarification by press time.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.