CHICAGO — If it weren't for all the secrecy surrounding the latest developments in the R. Kelly case, the defense wouldn't be asking to delay the trial yet again, argued a lawyer representing the media's interest in the case on Thursday (May 8).
THE R. KELLY TRIAL: IN BRIEF|
Status of Trial
Jury selection begins on May 9.
Kelly faces 14 counts of child pornography — seven for directing, seven for producing.
What's at Stake?
Kelly faces 15 years in prison and a $100,000 fine. If convicted, he'd have to register as a sex offender.
For full coverage of the ongoing R. Kelly case, see The R. Kelly Trial Reports.
Attorney Damon Dunn complained about the court's efforts to keep information from the media by holding some hearings in the judge's chambers, instead of in open court, and keeping the motions and documents from those hearings under seal. That's why, when the Chicago Sun-Times reported that one of the secret witnesses would claim that she had a sexual encounter with Kelly and the girl in question on the sex tape, it was big news, he said, and Kelly's lawyers seemed to agree, by virtue of their motion Wednesday to continue the case.
"You need look no further than the Chicago Sun-Times, and their huge headline of 'shocking allegations,' " Kelly attorney Marc Martin told the court.
Kelly, who remained seated during the hearing, wearing a brown suit and a spotted tie, bit on his lip as his lawyer spoke of the latest scandal.
Dunn, who represented the interests of the Sun-Times, the Chicago Tribune and The Associated Press, asked the court to remedy the situation by allowing the media access to the sealed documents, which would "ventilate" what the defense called a "torrent of publicity." Dunn further argued that the public has a right to monitor the case, given that it's the public who pays for it. He suggested redacting, or editing, the documents, if it was an issue of protecting the identity of the witnesses and more involved voir dire questioning for prospective jurors to counteract effects of publicity.
But even in trying to make his argument, Dunn pointed out, he was limited, since he hadn't even been able to read the documents in question. "Have you seen them?" the judge interrupted him to ask. "They were not given to us," Dunn said.
"Ever see 'Animal House'?" Dunn asked reporters outside the courtroom. "It's like 'Double Secret Probation.'"
Kelly's attorney seemed to agree with the media attorney on certain points, such as opening up the gag order so that the attorneys involved can address rumors and reports with the media.
"We've had reporters call up and say, 'Cough once if it's true,' " Martin said. "We're handcuffed, judge. We can't say it's false. We can't refute it. But if the court would allow us to respond, we would."
However, Martin didn't come right out and ask for the decorum order to be lifted, instead joking that it will be the first and last time he'll agree with prosecutors, since both the defense and prosecution argued against unsealing certain court records. Though even Assistant State's Attorney Mary Boland smiled at the remark, Kelly maintained his look of concern.
Boland argued that keeping some of the information secret protects both the rights of the alleged victim as well as Kelly himself, since it's regarding his right to a fair trial and due process.
Judge Vincent Gaughan said that it was "my mindset, my philosophy" that without the press, "we wouldn't have the democracy we have today." However, because of the gravity of the request, he said he didn't want to make a decision lightly, so he would rule on May 16.
"It's a sign he's taking us seriously," attorney Katherine Licup, who represented the interests of Chicago Public Radio station WBEZ, told reporters outside the courtroom.
The motion to continue the trial is scheduled for Friday (May 9), but while the judge has not formally ruled on the matter, all signs point to him ruling against it and starting the trial as planned.
Jury selection is still slated to begin May 9, and when another matter was brought before Judge Gaughan to be scheduled for trial on Thursday, he said it wouldn't fit on his calendar until next month. "We're starting a really big trial tomorrow," he told the court, "so we're not going to be able to start this case."
Gaughan also took care to make sure the courtroom was presentable and comfortable prior to jury selection, testing out the jury chairs himself on Wednesday, noting two that needed repairs. The seating in the gallery was freshly painted on Wednesday, and sheriff's deputies met on the terrace Thursday afternoon to go over plans on how to handle the expected crowds.
"It sounds like that motion is being denied," Dunn told reporters. "The judge is focused on this trial."
Don't miss "R. Kelly: When The Gavel Drops," airing on Sunday, May 11, at 2 p.m. ET on MTV2.
For full coverage of the R. Kelly case, see The R. Kelly Reports.