Reporting with Natasha Korecki
Judge James Zagel said he'll make a decision by Monday on whether the names of jurors in the Blagojevich trial will remain secret.
Zagel has come under pressure by news organizations to overturn his decision, which keeps jurors' identities a secret until after a verdict is reached -- a rare move he said protects them from tampering in his highly public trial.
In front of a small crowd of reporters Thursday afternoon, Zagel said he hasn't seen a case as "high-profile" as this one since mass murderer Richard Speck's in the 1960s. He said he's personally received letters and profane phone rants from the public during the trial, in at least one case causing him to ask U.S. Marshals to pay the caller a visit.
Zagel said it's his duty to protect jurors' identities. Beyond that, he gave them their word he wouldn't release their names until after the verdict.
Zagel needled the media and others who don't take jurors' perspective into account.
"They're like a potted plant, they only come to life when they go back there
(and deliberate)," Zagel told a lawyer representing the media.
While the usual array of "cranks and gadflies" cause a nuisance in regular trials, Zagel said, emotions are much higher when dealing with a twice-elected public official in this fast-moving, drama-filled case.
"This is not, as is usually the case in high-profile cases, something that happened to somebody else," Zagel said. "We are dealing here with perhaps millions of people who voted for the defendant, millions of people who felt that their votes were betrayed."
The judge also worried about going back on his word after promising jurors anonymity, saying he runs "a real risk of diminishing the authority of the only neutral person in the trial."
An attorney for the government, Debra Bonamici, pushed for the names to remain secret. Bonamici wasted no time in citing a Wall Street Journal reporter's citation yesterday in the courthouse lobby. However, Bonamici erred by telling Zagel he attempted to question a witness and violated an order. The reporter in fact was following up with a Blagojevich attorney after a news conference.
Natalie Spears, at attorney for the Tribune Co., argued that the judge was keeping the press from doing its watchdog duties for fear of "hypothetical risks."
"We are punching at ghosts here that don't exist," she said.
The judge did pose one compromise -- releasing the names on the condition that news outlets not publish them. That way, he argued, media could investigate the jurors without putting them in jeopardy.