The trial of the ComEd Four began Tuesday morning with a battle over whether classified federal records would be released to the news media during the trial, but U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber ruled that news outlets have a “right of access” and sided with them.
Patrick Cotter, a lawyer for the defendant, Michael McClain, a longtime confidant of former House Speaker Michael Madigan, argued that the release of tapes such as wiretaps could lead to jurors flipping through radio or television channels and listening to selected segments, which redactions would to present “in the most entertaining form”.
“Frankly,” Cotter said, “the only problem here is the ratings.”
Leinenweber ruled last week in favor of Cotter’s argument that the records should not be released during the trial. At the time, the judge said the transcripts would be available once they were entered into evidence.
“Absolutely nothing has changed,” Kotter claimed.
But news groups weighed in Tuesday, including the Chicago Tribune, arguing that the public should not be “deprived” of listening to tapes that may involve various people, including Madigan, the longest-serving legislative leader in American history.
“The problem is not about ratings,” argued Brian Saucier, a media attorney, but about “good journalism.”
Saucier, citing the case of former President Richard Nixon, who tried to block the release of his White House tapes, also argued that a “cold transcript does not convey” the information on the tapes, as well as the audio itself.
Cotter countered that the judge has “discretion” to allow or deny the release of the records during the trial.
But Leinenweber noted that prior court decisions are “one-sided” in favor of immediate access to records when they are presented in court, and immediate access is granted to news outlets.