Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

The Simple Unavoidable Fact That Will Lead to a Blagojevich Mistrial

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Judges live in a different world from you and me. Ours aren’t as fusty and old-fashioned as Britain’s, who still wear wigs. But they work just as hard to pretend that modern technology has no place in a trial.

    Judge James B. Zagel’s order that Blagojevich jurors read or see no Blagojevich news is a traditional admonishment to a jury. But it also plays right into Blago’s attempt to taint the jury pool by appearing on every news media willing to exploit the public’s fascination with his Redd Foxx mouth and his Elvis hair.

    As a politician, Blagojevich is naturally more hep to today’s communication than Zagel, so he’s been on TV and radio, written a book, and started a Twitter account. So it’s no wonder that jurors flouted Zagel’s order by discussing a news story about a fellow potential juror who tried to get off the panel. Zagel managed to find 18 people who were ignorant enough of Blagojevich to give him a fair trial -- but they’re having trouble staying ignorant, now that the news is about them.

    Judges used to keep jurors in the dark by telling them not to read a newspaper or watch TV. Now, it’s impossible to carry out everyday communication without seeing news. When you check your e-mail, headlines pop up on your home page or your cell phone. When you log on to Facebook, your friends may have linked to, or commented about, a Blagojevich story. Does Zagel expect his jurors not to use computers for four months?

    Four years ago, when George Ryan was on trial, Facebook and Twitter weren’t part of everyday life. And Ryan’s trial didn’t transcend Illinois, as Blagojevich’s does. It was easy to ignore George Ryan, because most of America was ignoring George Ryan. He was an ordinary local crook. Zagel has banned Blagojevich from updating his Twitter account, but he’s too late. In the last 18 months, Blagojevich has turned himself into a ubiquitous celebrity. If that makes it impossible for jurors to avoid his name and face this summer, well, he’ll just have to ask for a mistrial, won’t he?

    Maybe Blagojevich wasn’t tainting the jury pool. Maybe he wants it to die of exposure.