William Cellini attorneys subpoena Chicago Tribune, Tribune reporter Annie Sweeney account, Editor Gerould Kern statement
From the Chicago Tribune December 13, 2011.
“Attorneys for Springfield power broker William Cellini are seeking to overturn his conviction after revelations by the Tribune that one of the jurors apparently did not disclose to the court that she had two felony convictions.
As part of that legal effort, Cellini’s defense team subpoenaed the Tribune, demanding reporters’ notes, recordings and other documents related to any interviews with the juror.
The Tribune filed a motion to quash those subpoenas Monday morning, but later in the day, U.S. District Judge James Zagel ordered the newspaper to turn over the notes from any conversations with the juror.
In the Nov. 11 story first disclosing the juror’s felony convictions, the Tribune wrote that the juror invited a Tribune reporter into the lobby of her apartment building, confirmed she was a juror in the Cellini trial but then declined to answer questions about her criminal background.
To explain the matter more fully to our readers, reporter Annie Sweeney compiled this account of her brief interview with the juror:
By Annie Sweeney, Tribune reporter
Once we learned the juror had apparently withheld her convictions, I went to her South Side home to ask for her side of the story. It was the morning of Nov. 10.
I rang her doorbell. A young boy appeared on a second-story porch. I asked for the juror by name, but the boy said she was not home. As I started to walk toward my car, a woman poked her head out of a window and asked if I was looking for her.
I told her I needed to speak with her about the trial. She called back that she’d already been interviewed about it.
That was the Sun-Times, I told her. She had in fact discussed the verdict with my competitors the day that Cellini was convicted when we were all seeking jurors for interviews.
I told her I was with the Tribune and I have some questions. She agreed to come down.
I made my way back to the door. She let me in to her small vestibule, and I immediately told her why I was there.
Something has come up about you, I said. I am not here to judge, but we know about your convictions. And now there are questions about whether you were eligible to serve on the jury.
She began repeating the word no and indicated she did not want to be interviewed.
I continued talking. I was not taking notes.
She said she had nothing to say and told me to leave. She then made one brief remark that was not in direct response to a question. She said something about they should have known. I am not sure those were her exact words and I did not understand what she meant. I didn’t have an opportunity to ask her to explain it.
At some point I also asked her about her jury questionnaire in which she revealed she had a criminal history in her family but failed to put in the details.
She did not answer my questions and kept asking me to leave, so that’s what I did. The brief conversation ended before I could get a meaningful statement from her and I went to my car and wrote down my recollections of her remarks. They were not verbatim and not in perfect chronological order.
I went there to get her side of the story. But I never got it.”
From Gerould Kern, Tribune Editor December 12, 2011.
“Journalists must be free to ask questions and collect information secure in the knowledge that their notes will not be seized by the government or litigants in court and used for other purposes. Unfortunately, that security now is threatened by this ruling.
We believe that these subpoenas are unnecessary and in fact do harm to the independence of the reporting process. We are disappointed by Judge Zagel’s ruling, and we now are considering our options.
We do not know why this juror’s record or suitability for service were not ascertained earlier by the court. Had that occurred, we might not face this situation now.
We argued in our court filing that there are other, more direct sources of information available to learn about the juror’s record and actions. These include the court’s jury selection records, the juror herself, her friends and family, and her fellow jurors.
Public court records also are available to everyone in this case, as they were to us when we revealed the felony convictions in our Nov. 11 story.”