Ill. reporter refuses to answer questions at R. Kelly trial

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

CHICAGO — A Chicago Sun-Times reporter isn’t going to answer questions at the R. Kelly child-pornography trial.

After he was sworn in this morning, Jim DeRogatis cited an Illinois law that governs reporters’ rights and the First and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution in refusing to answer questions.

“I respectfully decline to answer the question on the advice of counsel on the grounds that to do so would contravene the reporter’s privilege, the special witness doctrine and my rights under the Illinois Constitution, and the First and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution,” DeRogatis said, as reported by the Sun-Times

DeRogatis read the statement more than a dozen times in response to questions, including whether he once made a copy of the sex tape at the center of the trial.

Defense attorneys have said that copying the tape would have been a crime.

After DeRogatis’ 10 minutes on the stand, Judge Vincent Gaughan said reporters’ privileges didn’t apply. But the judge ruled that DeRogatis didn’t have to testify based on his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

DeRogatis’ appearance today came after Gaughan stopped short yesterday of ordering his arrest for failing to appear in court. Gaughan warned that DeRogatis must show up today or face contempt charges.

Gaughan rejected arguments yesterday from Sun-Times lawyers that the order for DeRogatis to appear violated his rights as a reporter. Gaughan said DeRogatis wasn’t asked to appear “as a reporter” but “as a material witness to a crime.”

After saying yesterday morning that he would consider ordering the music critic’s arrest, Gaughan ended up later in the day issuing a new order for DeRogatis to be in court today.

DeRogatis received a sex tape in 2002, then turned it over to authorities. Prosecutors charged Kelly later that year with child pornography based on the 27-minunte video.

A visibly angry Gaughan clashed with Sun-Times attorney Damon Dunn yesterday, saying he didn’t accept that Illinois law granted DeRogatis a reporter’s privilege not to appear while the issue was under appeal.

“I think you’re making a little of Illinois law up today,” he told Dunn.

Sun-Times lawyers told Gaughan they had filed an appeal on the matter before yesterday’s hearing, but Gaughan said they had filed it in the wrong place. Dunn said he would push for an emergency ruling from the Illinois Appellate Court.

“If he testifies as a reporter, it would be a serious breach of his statutory rights and his constitutional rights,” Dunn said.

Kelly, 41, has pleaded not guilty to 14 counts of child pornography. Lawyers for Kelly, who faces 15 years in prison if convicted, say he is not on the video. They have also suggested his likeness may have been computer generated.

The judge had said defense attorneys couldn’t ask DeRogatis about his duties as a reporter, including about his sources.

Kelly attorney Marc Martin said yesterday that the defense did not want to ask DeRogatis about his sources, but about whether he made a copy of the sex tape and later viewed it with a relative of the alleged victim in the case.

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