U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Music journalist subpoenaed in criminal trial of singer R. Kelly

Incident Details

SCREENSHOT

A portion of the subpoena issued to music journalist James (Jim) DeRogatis seeking trial testimony in the federal case against singer R. Kelly. The subpoena was quashed on Sept. 7, 2022.

— SCREENSHOT
August 3, 2022

Journalist Jim DeRogatis was issued a subpoena for testimony in the federal trial of R&B singer Robert “R.” Kelly in Chicago, Illinois, on Aug. 3, 2022. The judge quashed the subpoena on Sept. 7.

DeRogatis — a reporter, music critic, author and an associate professor at Columbia College Chicago — has reported extensively on Kelly for The Chicago Sun-Times and The New Yorker, and in 2019 he authored the book “Soulless: The Case Against R. Kelly.”

DeRogatis told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that an individual delivered an unmarked videocassette with footage of Kelly and a 14-year-old girl to his home in February 2002. DeRogatis said that within four hours of receiving the footage, he and the editorial staff at the Sun-Times turned it over to police and it was subsequently used as evidence in Kelly’s state criminal trial in 2008.

The judge in the case compelled DeRogatis to testify during that first trial, but upon advice from counsel DeRogatis refused to answer any questions, reading instead a statement citing his Fifth and First Amendment rights.

DeRogatis told the Tracker that following the first trial, he was aware that he might again be called to testify in the federal case. In 2022, attorneys for Derrel McDavid — Kelly’s former business manager and co-defendant in the case — issued DeRogatis the subpoena, ordering him to appear to provide trial testimony on Sept. 6.

In court filings reviewed by the Tracker, McDavid’s attorney’s cited interest in April 2019 emails between DeRogatis and Assistant U.S. Attorney Angel Krull, the former lead prosecutor on the case.

DeRogatis told the Tracker he was on assignment for The New Yorker when he contacted Krull about the two federal investigations and in the course of the conversation had offered to send her a copy of his then-forthcoming book. Krull then emailed him from a non-governmental email address and he sent along a PDF of his book. DeRogatis said he never heard back from her and has not communicated with Krull since.

DeRogatis and The New Yorker jointly filed an emergency motion to quash the subpoena or issue a protective order on Sept. 6. The motion argued that all of the information or knowledge that DeRogatis may have that would be pertinent to the case had been published in his reporting.

During a hearing on Sept. 7, attorneys for McDavid told District Court Judge Harry Leinenweber that they wanted to show DeRogatis the cassette and ask him to confirm whether it was the same one he had received in 2002, according to DeRogatis. The prosecutors, who had not previously expressed an interest in questioning DeRogatis, told the judge they also hoped to ask the journalist to confirm the timeline of his reporting while at the Sun-Times.

Seth Stern, the attorney representing DeRogatis at the hearing, confirmed to the Tracker that Leinenweber granted the motion to quash the subpoena that day. Stern said that the judge agreed that the testimony they were seeking was “cumulative, redundant, unnecessary.”

“I would have sat on the stand and read my whole book if they had 10 or 15 hours,” DeRogatis said. “In 22 years of reporting on this case, I have not had a single correction, clarification, retraction or lawsuit. My reporting stands. I’m proud of that work.”

Stern said that while he was gratified with the outcome in this case, the subpoena itself can set a precedent that may chill future reporting.

“Absent a federal shield law, there’s really no certainty that a reporter getting a subpoena like this can have regarding whether they’ll need to testify or not,” Stern said. “Fortunately, in this case the judge made the right call, but you never know what’s going to happen in the next one.”

Kelly was convicted on three counts of child pornography and three counts of enticement of a minor to engage in criminal sexual acts on Sept. 14, CNN reported. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison in June on racketeering charges in a second federal trial in New York. McDavid and Kelly’s second co-defendant, Milton Brown, were acquitted of all charges.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected]