BLOOMINGTON — Lawyers for the media and accused murderer Kirk Zimmerman have filed arguments with the Illinois Supreme Court about whether the public should have access to sealed records in the case.
The court has agreed to review both defense lawyer John Rogers' arguments that information about Kirk Zimmerman should not be disclosed until after a jury is chosen, and media arguments that the documents should be unsealed.
Zimmerman, 59, is accused in the November 2014 shooting death of his ex-wife, Pam Zimmerman, in her east-side Bloomington office.
In December 2016, Judge Scott Drazewski granted a defense request to keep two pre-trial motions under seal until after jury selection. Rogers argued that the state did not intend to use the information at trial and releasing it publicly could prejudice Zimmerman.
The ruling came despite arguments by The Pantagraph, WGLT and the Illinois Press Association that the records filed with the McLean County Circuit Clerk are public documents. The state took no position.
Court documents and hearings are presumed open unless a judge closes them based on a specific exemption, according to federal and state laws.
In March, the Fourth District Appellate Court sided with the media and sent the issue back to Drazewski for another hearing. Zimmerman has appealed that ruling.
In a Supreme Court brief, media lawyer Don Craven argues that such motions play an important role in deciding what evidence may be heard by a jury.
Craven cited an instance, filed by The Pantagraph and other media in the 2003 DeWitt County murder case against Maurice LaGrone Jr., in which the appellate court reversed a judge's decision to close the courtroom for a hearing on potential evidence.
Zimmerman's right to a fair trial could be harmed if the "inflammatory and sensitive evidence — including prior bad acts evidence" was released ahead of trial, Rogers argued in his Supreme Court brief.
A trial date has not been set on the murder charges that have kept Zimmerman confined to his home since in release on bond in November 2015. The suspect was arrested in July 2015 after an eight-month investigation by Bloomington police.
According to the state, the motive for the killing stemmed from an ongoing dispute between the Zimmermans over child support and the victim's threat to take Zimmerman back to court if he did not pay back child support.
The Supreme Court has not set for oral arguments on the records issue.
Zimmerman is due in court Dec. 20 for a hearing on other pending pre-trial motions.