Long before the first witness took the stand in the Rod Blagojevich corruption trial, Judge James Zagel announced that he would not be revealing the names of the jurors who would sit in judgment.
The news media filed a motion for the names to be released, and the judge denied it. But the Court of Appeals said the judge should at least hold a hearing on the matter, and that hearing has now been set for July 23. Zagel Wednesday laid out some of his rationale for keeping the jurors' names under wraps.
First, Zagel suggests as he did in open court earlier this week, that he made a commitment to the jurors and believes he needs to keep it.
"Jurors understand that opposing lawyers are advocates," he writes. "The only person in the court who is perceived as neutral, and therefore, fully reliable, is the judge."
Zagel says jurors traditionally see the judge as their protector, and that such a fact should not be lost now.
The judge expands on his fear that if the names are released, inexperienced would-be journalists (read: bloggers) would attempt to contact them, as might members of the public. As he described briefly from the bench, he noted that he has himself received communications from the public about the case, and that one voice message included facts which were, as he put it, "incredible." Another, he said, included profanity and an insult.
"While messages in this latter category may be relatively common for judges to receive, such communications from strangers to the ordinary citizen would most likely be frightening."
He expresses further fear that with the advent of sites such as Facebook, jurors might be easily contacted by total strangers.
"An opinionated member of the public need only learn a juror's name and search for that juror on Facebook in order to send him or her unsolicited messages," Zagel writes.
Media attorneys suggest the matter needs to be resolved sooner rather than later. The trial is moving at unexpected speed, and the matter would be rendered moot if not resolved by the time deliberations begin.