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Lawyers for news organizations covering the build-up to a trial of rhythm and blues star R. Kelly over pornography charges asked the Illinois Supreme Court to overturn decisions by a lower court that has blocked access to case information. The emergency request this week by the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Associated Press comes just ahead of the trial, which opens with jury selection on May 9. Their petition seeks to reverse orders by Cook County Circuit Court Judge Vincent M. Gaughan, who has tried to curb release of court filings, documents and court hearing transcripts that could bias jurors. News organizations from all over the world have registered to cover the trial of Kelly, a three-time Grammy award winner, on 2002 charges that he videotaped himself having sex with a girl who may have been as young as 13 at the time. Gaughan has held proceedings with prosecutors and lawyers for Kelly behind closed doors several times this month and refused to make transcripts of those sessions available; sealed filings such as the state’s motion to allow evidence of other crimes; and barred lawyers from speaking with reporters about the case, the media lawyers said. After the media outlets objected to the measures in an April 22 emergency motion, Gaughan said he’d respond at a May 8 hearing. “By finding there’s no emergency, it’s pretty much the same thing as denying it,” said Damon Dunn, an attorney with Funkhouser Vegosen Liebman & Dunn in Chicago who is representing the media outlets. Terry Sullivan, a legal commentator for a local TV station who is acting as a liaison between the media and Gaughan, didn’t immediately have a comment on the Supreme Court petition. Marc Martin, one of the attorneys representing Kelly, and Shauna Boliker, the assistant state’s attorney leading the prosecution, didn’t return calls seeking comment. Gaughan said the press would have access to the information when the trial is over, the Tribune reported earlier this month. He also said it was impossible to reference all the sealed documents and discussions without revealing their contents. Gaughan worked for nearly two decades in the county public defender’s office before becoming a judge in 1991, according to Sullivan’s Judicial Profiles. He received a law degree from DePaul University College of Law in 1971. His office declined to provide biographical information. Hogan & Hartson attorney Slade Metcalf, a media law litigator who hasn’t been following the Kelly case, said it was unusual for news outlets to petition the high court before a decision by a lower court, though there are few patterns in such cases. “I really don’t think you can generalize,” said Metcalf, who is based in New York. “In a normal kind of a criminal trial, there may be situations where conferences in chambers aren’t going to be made public.” In addition to asking for release of previously sealed information, lawyers for the press asked the Supreme Court to prohibit Gaughan from holding closed hearings without offering constitutional grounds for doing so and from gagging attorneys in the case, arguing that the court has exceeded its authority and abridged First Amendment rights. The emergency motion bypassed other state appellate courts. “Ultimately, the circuit court’s refusal to state its rationale for sealing proceedings in the Kelly case forecloses the public from even addressing whether a ‘compelling interest’ is at stake and whether blanket closure is ‘narrowly tailored,’” the media’s petition to the Supreme Court said.

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