Zagel got it right — for the wrong reason

Headline Club Applauds Judge’s Decision


We are grateful that U.S. District Judge James Zagel respected Reporter’s Privilege in ruling that reporters for the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times need not turn over notes of interviews with a juror who apparently concealed her criminal background during selection of a jury for the trial of William Cellini.


However, while the Chicago Headline Club believes Zagel issued the correct ruling, the journalism organization objects to his reasoning. Zagel said Dec. 14 reporters did not have to surrender their notes because the juror did not say anything important enough. Though case law governing the federal courts in this circuit does give judges the ultimate right to ask journalists to turn over their notes, tradition has held that judges should exhaust other avenues before violating the reporter-source relationship. This once again demonstrates the need for a federal Shield Law.


Defense attorneys in this case sought reporters’ notes before the juror herself had been interviewed or other investigations of her background and motivations launched. Sending a message to whistle-blowers or jurors in controversial cases that their confidences shared with reporters can be casually broken as a short-cut in federal cases will result in fewer public-interest stories that benefit us all.


The reporters had interviewed Candy Chiles after the jury convicted Cellini of extortion. His lawyers sought a new trial, partly because of newspaper revelations that Chiles had two felony convictions for crack-cocaine possession and aggravated driving under the influence that she concealed during jury selection. The reporters are Anne Sweeney of the Tribune and Maudlyne Ihejirka of the Sun-Times.


Following Zagel’s decision, Headline Club President Stephen Franklin noted, “We are independent witnesses to the news and not arms of the court.”