State Supreme Court rules against Cook County judge’s secrecy in Van Dyke case

SHARE State Supreme Court rules against Cook County judge’s secrecy in Van Dyke case
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Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke Antonio Perez | Chicago Tribune | Pool file photo

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a Cook County judge can no longer have court filings directly routed to his chambers in the controversial murder case involving Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke, who shot Laquan McDonald 16 times.

Media organizations, including the Sun-Times, sued over the controversial move by Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan.

The Supreme Court ordered that legal filings in the Van Dyke case should be filed in the clerk’s office and should be sealed only if parties in the case make such a request, which is typically how such matters are handled.

Shortly after the case arrived in his courtroom, Gaughan entered a “decorum order” that imposes a rare level of secrecy on lawyers in the case, as well as on the handling of court records that are public in nearly every other case at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse.

Parties to the case are not allowed to talk publicly about the case, and all filings have to be dropped off with Gaughan’s courtroom clerk and nearly all of them remained under seal until last month, after the media organizations filed a motion to make all filings in the case public.

After several hearings, the judge unsealed around 70 of more than 100 filings in the case, holding back other mostly, it seems, because they include extensive references to grand jury testimony.

Gaughan also has barred reporters and the public from two recent hearings, where lawyers argued over witnesses who would testify at trial about 17-year-old McDonald’s troubled past, and about potential expert witnesses.

Gaughan, who put in place similar strictures when he presided over the trial of R&B superstar R. Kelly, has said the secrecy is necessary to ensure that Van Dyke gets a fair trial.

Van Dyke’s lawyers have said they plan to file a motion for a change of venue, owning to the intense publicity surrounding the case.

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