CHICAGO As jurors retired to deliberate Wednesday in the corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, they entered a cocoon of privacy not all jurors in high-profile cases enjoy.
No e-mail messages from the King of Japan, no fake letters from President Barack Obama postmarked in Iowa, no expletive-laden voicemail messages on their phones, like the ones that Judge James B. Zagel has received. No chance of Facebook postings using their names, either.
The ubiquity of e-mail and social networking and the Internet Age-urge for everyone to express their opinions were among the reasons Zagel cited when he prohibited the release of the 12 primary and five alternate jurors names until after the verdict in the trial of the disgraced governor.
Withholding juror names is more common in trials involving alleged mobsters or terrorists, for security reasons, and media organizations contested Zagels ruling. But the judge said that the jurors ability to impartially decide an inarguably high-profile case could be impaired by unsolicited interruptions.
His arguments for not releasing the names make perfect sense, said Chicago attorney Michael Helfand, reflecting sympathy with Zagels decision in legal circles. People could Google your name, call you or connect with you on Facebook. This trial is enough of a disruption to (jurors) lives. Why disrupt it further?
Theres also the danger someone could alter a jurors ability to think clearly, Zagel said recently. If jurors picked up a phone and heard a spewing of profanity that could have a mood-altering impact, he said. In the judges final ruling, he acknowledged that inappropriate contact of jurors is not a new issue, but said the risk was greater because of the pervasiveness of e-mail and social media.
So, unlike in previous trials such as that of former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, Blagojevichs predecessor most of whats known about the jurors determining Blagojevichs future is their occupations and a few details gleaned from the judges questions during jury selection.
Theres a math teacher, a retired public health official, a former Marine injured serving in the Middle East, a Navy veteran, an avid marathon runner and a man born in a U.S. internment camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II.
They will decide between the Blagojevich portrayed by prosecutors as a greedy, smart political schemer determined to use his power to enrich himself throughout his administration and the man defense attorneys characterized as an insecure bumbler who talked too much and had terrible judgment but never did anything to enrich himself.
The ousted governor, 53, has pleaded not guilty to 24 counts, including trying to sell or trade an appointment to Obamas vacated Senate seat for a Cabinet post, private job or campaign cash. If convicted, he could face as much as $6 million in fines and a sentence of 415 years in prison, though he is sure to get much less time under federal guidelines.
His brother, Nashville, Tenn., businessman Robert Blagojevich, 54, also has pleaded not guilty to taking part in that alleged scheme.
After Zagel gave jurors instructions Wednesday morning about their deliberations, two wire carts full of exhibits entered into evidence during the nearly two-month trial were wheeled into the jury room. That includes transcripts of the FBI wiretap tapes at the heart of the prosecutions case.
The jurys first orders of business were to elect a foreman and organize their deliberations. They decided to deliberate 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, courtroom deputy Donald Walker said.
What they do next is up to them. They could start by simply gauging feelings around the room, or reviewing jury instructions, or perhaps setting aside the ousted governors case and starting with his co-defendant brothers, who face fewer counts.