A somewhat testy U.S. District Judge James Zagel in court this afternoon suggested that reporters who had contact with a juror in the trial of William Cellini would be asked to turn over their notes.
Zagel, who is set to sentence ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Tuesday, made the suggestion during an afternoon hearing in which a lawyer from the Chicago Tribune appeared to intervene, asking that Zagel open up an in-chambers conference tomorrow regarding the Cellini case to the public.
Zagel opened up tomorrow's hearing by holding it today.
"This is the morning conference," he told lawyers before him.
Cellini's attorneys have asked that his guilty verdict be thrown out because a juror hadn't disclosed she had a felony record. Zagel has said that an evidentiary hearing may be warranted.
Zagel said he set a conference for tomorrow in his chambers, he said, because he simply wanted one lawyer from each side to give him possible days they would be free in December -- a busy month -- if he were to schedule a hearing. He did though, ask that lawyers submit to him, under seal, "proposed questions," to be asked at a hearing.
Zagel snapped at lawyers who started asking questions about the details of the type of hearing he had in mind.
"I'm not answering that question. I just want dates and I want certain information," Zagel said.
Zagel then told the Tribune lawyer James Klenk he suspected the media wouldn't oppose placing the questions under seal, citing "general journalistic practice" not to reveal questions to a source before an interview. "So you can ponder if that's an issue you want to raise," Zagel told the lawyer, with a slight smile.
Zagel then said he suspected that if the juror in question had spoken to reporters, subpoenas could be forthcoming.
"I want to avoid a dispute over reporters' notes," Zagel said. He said it would be "helpful to the court" to know if the juror had spoken publicly about one issue, presumably her criminal background. "You can start preparing your briefs," Zagel told Klenk, who did not respond.
The Sun-Times had interviewed the juror the day of the verdict. The juror though refused a follow-up interview on the question of whether she had a criminal background.