When the much-anticipated Family Secrets mob conspiracy trial opens today in Chicago, jurors will share their backgrounds, views on issues and reading habits — but not their names, reports The Chicago Tribune. In a rare move, the presiding judge decided to seat an anonymous jury. The five men accused of racketeering conspiracy for their alleged roles in controlling the Chicago Outfit will know who is deciding their fates only by court-assigned numbers. The prosecution cited the safety of jurors for keeping their identities secret, even from defense lawyers in the case. U.S. District Judge James Zagel agreed that was the best course.
Seating an anonymous jury is a controversial practice. Judges must weigh juror safety against a defendant’s right to an impartial panel. The risk is that the need for their anonymity could leave jurors thinking the defendants must be dangerous. Lawyers in the Family Secrets case said they strongly objected for that reason. “Now, of course, the jury can infer that these must be pretty nefarious people,” said Ralph Meczyk, the lawyer for defendant Anthony Doyle. Recently, an anonymous jury heard a Ku Klux Klan trial in Mississippi, and another decided the fate of reputed mobster John Gotti Jr. last year in New York. In the Family Secrets case, it’s unclear exactly what evidence persuaded Zagel to keep the jury anonymous. Prosecutors made their arguments in a Feb. 16 motion that was filed under seal.