Someone out at 26th and California tells me it’ll be “a media circus like this building has never seen” if and when R. Kelly’s trial finally begins there. A  page-one story in Friday’s Tribune examines the measures Criminal Courts judge Vincent Gaughan has been taking to keep the circus under his control. These include turning his courtroom into a kind of dumb show, with everything important hashed out with the lawyers in his chambers. He’s put the lawyers under a gag order and the court documents under seal. How many documents? The number’s secret too.

On April 22 the Sun-Times and Tribune jointly filed an emergency motion asking Gaughan to let them in on what’s going on. “The public has a nearly absolute right of access to Court records and proceedings,” the papers argued, and “absent specific factual findings that demonstrate in each instance how secrecy serves a compelling interest overriding the essential right to access and that no other less restrictive alternative is available, public access cannot be denied.” All in due time, Gaughan replied. At a hearing Thursday he refused to treat the motion as an emergency and set arguments on it for May 8. Jury selection in the Kelly trial is scheduled to begin the next day.

Kelly was charged with child pornography back in 2002 after someone sent a video to Sun-Times music critic Jim DeRogatis and he turned it over to the police. The story was dormant so long some journalists seem to think Kelly’s already put his troubles behind him. A New York Times story last November mentioned that Kelly faces child-pornography charges here “stemming from a widely circulated video that reportedly shows him with an under-age girl” but went on to say that although the scandal “once threatened to end Mr. Kelly’s career,” the entertainer “survived it in spectacular form, mainly by refusing to be cowed. If anything, his raunchiest songs got even more outlandish in the years after the report broke; what else could fans do but shrug and grin and sing along?”

Maybe there’s something in the water at the Times. Last August its enraptured account of Kelly’s video series Trapped in the Closet called him “the funniest pop star on the planet” and noted his legal troubles only parenthetically to explain why he didn’t sit for an interview.

The video DeRogatis received does more than show Kelly with an underage girl; it reportedly shows him urinating into her mouth. And she isn’t the only person whose privacy Judge Gaughan seems determined to protect. The Sun-Times reported on April 14 that prosecutors “want to introduce evidence of other crimes allegedly committed by the R&B singer.” 

What would these be? Blogger Bill Wyman, a former Reader staffer, recently posted this comprehensive report. “This is a compelling tale, but a little bit barfy as well,” Wyman writes.