Chicago Sun-Times
Inside the Rod Blagojevich investigation and related cases

May 2010 Archives

BROTHERS GRIM: Rob and Rod Blagojevich also codefendants

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brothersgrim

They may have grown up together in Chicago, but Rob and Rod Blagojevich went on to live different lives.

That is, until they met up again in August of 2008. Four months later, Rod was in handcuffs and Rob was under federal scrutiny.

The will share the limelight starting Thursday when their trial begins.

Though one Blagojevich is far more used to that limelight that the other.

The chart below ran along our story: "Brothers Grim," which detailed the relationship between the two. To read the story, click here.


The two are more different than you'd think.


rodrob


The former governor's trial begins in just three days -- who are the main players in the case? Here's a primer on the defense and prosecution.

adams
Sam Adam Jr. and Sam Adam Sr.

BLAGOJEVICH'S DEFENSE: Sam Adam Jr. says prosecutors "think I'm a clown."
He'll deliver opening statements. But his veteran father, Sam Adam, will put the former governor on the stand because he's "more detail-oriented." For their story
, click here.

ettinger
From left: Michael Ettinger, Cheryl Schroeder and Rob Blagojevich

Robert Blagojevich's lawyer, Michael Ettinger, has to distinguish his client from his brother, without taking shots at the former governor. For that story, click here.

prosecutors
Reid Schar and Carrie Hamilton stand behind U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.

THE PROSECUTION: Reid Schar, Chris Niewoehner and Carrie Hamilton haven't engaged in the Blagojevich circus, sticking to just the facts, ma'am. They're tasked with weaving together wide-ranging narratives, some of which involve Tony Rezko. But Rezko isn't slotted to take the stand. For that story, click here.

AP: No delay in Blagojevich trial

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From the AP:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court has denied ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's request to delay his corruption trial.
The decision by Justice John Paul Stevens came shortly after the Obama adminstration opposed Blagojevich's request. The trial is now scheduled to begin June 3.
Blagojevich had asked the high court to delay his trial until the justices rule first in pending cases about the constitutionality of the federal honest-services fraud law. Prosecutors have charged Blagojevich with violating the fraud law and other crimes.




Here's today's filing by the U.S. Department of Justice, urging the U.S. Supreme Court not to delay the trial of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his brother, Robert.

The trial is supposed to start Thursday but defense lawyers are seeking a delay until the high court rules on the honest services statute. The court is poised to strike down the law.

Prosecutors say the trial should go on.

"The district court noted that the evidence underlying the honest services fraud counts is the same as that underlying the bribery, extortion, and racketeering counts, so that the evidentiary flow of the trial will not be affected by the outcome of the honest services cases," lawyers for the government wrote. "And the court protected against any prejudice to the defendants by limiting opening statements to discussing the evidence to be presented at trial and by barring the parties from using the term
"honest services" during their opening statements."

To read: Click here.

Mike Madigan's take on the Blagojevich trial

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This post was written and reported by Springfield Bureau Chief Dave McKinney

The prospect of a months-long trial full of embarrassing political disclosures involving ex-Gov. Blagojevich "is not a plus" for incumbent Democrats, but it won't cost the party control of the Statehouse, House Speaker Michael Madigan predicted Thursday.

"With the House incumbents, the first thing on their campaign brochure is they voted to impeach Blagojevich, and I initiated impeachment," said Madigan, who is chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois.

"If you're an incumbent in the Senate, you're going to say the first thing I did was
vote to remove Blagojevich from office," Madigan said. "Impeachment is in the Constitution. It's an extraordinary power, rarely used, never used in the state of Illinois. We used it.

"It was the Democrats that initiated the impeachment and removal of the governor," said Madigan, who indicated he has not been subpoenaed as a possible witness in Blagojevich's trial as other top Democrats have been. "I got to know the guy, and you will recall, I stopped going to the meetings," Madigan said. "I endured a lot of criticism for not going to the meetings, but I think I was proved right."

In the Illinois House, there would have to be an epic shift of 12 seats now in Democratic hands to cost Madigan the speakership. In the Senate, eight seats would have to slip away from Democrats to give Republicans control of that chamber.
The trial, on its own, probably won't be enough to shift control of the House, but it will "remind voters over and over again about the mismanagement we've seen for the last eight years all under Democrat control," said Senate Minority Leader Christine Ragono (R-Lemont).

Reporting with Sarah Ostman

The federal judge in the Rod Blagojevich case today said there was nothing wrong with letting go a bulk of jurors who said that serving in the case would create a hardship for them.

Judge James Zagel won't start from scratch on jury screening as the defense had requested, he said.

Zagel cited a couple instances where potential jurors, who had filled out questionnaires, said they were out of work or couldn't get child care for the length of the trial, estimated at 15 to 17 weeks.

Zagel is allowing the defense to take a closer look at the people he dismissed and he'd consider recalling them.

One interesting tidbit from today's hearing: Apparently Lon Monk, expected to be a key witness in the case, at one point lied to Robert Blagojevich about an ailing parent.
Monk lies and says he's visiting his sick father, Zagel said.

The government wanted to black out that portion of the call, saying it wasn't relevant.

Zagel said it is relevant "and the manner in which he told that falsely," is relevant, given Monk's positioning as a top witness.


Just a week before trial is supposed to begin, attorneys for Rod and Rob Blagojevich will be back in court this afternoon asking a judge to start over with screening potential jurors.

In a filing Tuesday, Blagojevich lawyers argued U.S. District Judge James Zagel was wrong to dismiss hundreds of potential jurors who said serving on several month trial would create a "hardship" for them.

The defense has now filed two motions arguing they legally had every right to have a say in the dismissal of potential jurors. They say that Zagel on his own dismissed 75 percent of the 400-member jury pool based on their responses on the jury questionnaire. Those potential jurors said the length of the trial would create a hardship for them, defense lawyers said.

Official jury selection is to begin next week. And those who are considered will be picked from the remaining pool left after Zagel's pre-screening.

In a filing today lawyers cite other cases that say defendants have a constitutional right to be present during the pre-screening of jurors in the case.

"The prospective jurors either know or have reason to believe that this is jury selection in the Blagojevich case. The defendants have a right to be included in this process - at the very least have input (along with the government) as to the threshold requirements for hardship excusal," they wrote.

The issue will come up at a 4:30 p.m. hearing. If Zagel were to restart juror screening, it's likely to delay the trial set to begin June 3.

Contributing: Sarah Ostman


Defense lawyers in Rod Blagojevich's case want U.S. District Judge James Zagel to start all over with qualifying jurors for selection in next week's trial.

Lawyers say Zagel excused hundreds of jurors who marked on a questionnaire that serving on a several-month trial would be a hardship.

A motion filed today by Rod and Robert Blagojevich's lawyers says the judge excused more than 75 percent of the 400-member potential juror pool without allowing defense lawyers to check whether "an undue hardship or extreme inconvenience truly existed."

"Out of those 400 prospective jurors, it is the defendant's belief that approximately 75% (close to 300) were summarily excused by the court for hardship based upon the length of the trial," lawyers wrote in a filing today.

They are asking the judge to start over, which, if granted, would undoubtedly delay proceedings that are now set to begin a week from Thursday.

"Jury service is a duty that should be excused only in the most extreme, unavoidable
circumstances - for example, where financial embarrassment is such as to impose a
real burden and severe hardship validly exists," lawyers wrote.

Lawyers in the case are scheduled to meet in court Thursday afternoon.

Blagojevich's mug shot

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Blagojevich, Rod

More than a year after Rod Blagojevich's arrest and just before his corruption trial, U.S. Marshals have released the mug shot snapped the morning of Dec. 9, 2008.
Blagojevich was dressed for a run when agents met him at his door.
FOX News Chicago was the first to publicize the photo last week.

Blagojevich's ex-chief of staff pleads guilty. Again.

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BY SARAH OSTMAN

John Harris, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's onetime chief of staff, pleaded guilty in federal court today on charges that he helped Blagojevich in his attempts to sell Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat.
It was the second time Harris had entered a guilty plea for the same conduct.
Today's plea was a technicality.
Harris, 48, who lives on the city's North Side, had initially been charged with honest services fraud, but with the possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court may throw out that law this summer, the prosecution adjusted its charges to conspiracy to commit bribery. The charges say Harris discussed how Blagojevich could personally benefit from appointing someone to Obama's vacant seat in 2008.
As part of his plea deal, Harris faces up to 35 months in prison. But Harris' attorney, Terry Ekl, said he will argue for far less, given Harris' cooperation and upcoming testimony at Blagojevich's June 3 trial.
"I believe John Harris will be an extraordinarily effective witness for the government," Ekl said after court today. "John Harris is a tremendous person and I believe he is articulate, and he will be very truthful and he will be an outstanding witness at trial."
Harris was Blagojevich's chief of staff at the time that FBI agents arrested the two in December 2008.
"I think it's very interesting the two diferent paths the governor and John Harris have gone down since their arrests," Ekl said.
Harris is now working as an apprentice electrician to support his wife and three children, Ekl said.
"And obviously you've seen what the former governor has done, the way he's conducted himself," Ekl said. "So I think it's quite different."

Why Blagojevich is interested in Harry Reid

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Chicago Sun-Times columnist Lynn Sweet reports today that Rod Blagojevich's lawyers have subpoenaed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to testify at the ousted governor's upcoming corruption trial.
Whether Reid will actually take the stand is not yet decided.
But Blagojevich's lawyers likely want to show jurors that the senate pick was a political decision that involved his receiving pressure from some of the most powerful politicians in the country.
Blagojevich's lawyers, who also subpoenaed U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, (they were blocked from calling President Obama as a witness), have said the former governor was just engaged in political horse trading when he was captured on wiretapped calls describing the open senate seat as "f------ golden"
Blagojevich is charged with trying to leverage his power to appoint a U.S. Senator into a personal benefit for himself or his wife.
In a Dec. 4, 2008 conversation, Reid, who is not accused of wrongdoing, discussed with Blagojevich possible U.S. Senate seat appointees to fill Barack Obama's vacancy with Blagojevich, the Sun-Times has previously reported.
Reid had encouraged Blagojevich to appoint state Veterans Affairs chief Tammy Duckworth or Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to the post. Reid recommended against appointing Jesse Jackson, Jr., Danny Davis or Emil Jones, arguing they wouldn't be viable candidates in future elections.

No trial delay for Blagojevich: appeals court

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An appellate court late this afternoon denied Rod Blagojevich's plea for a trial delay.
Lawyers for Rod and Robert Blagojevich asked that the June 3rd trial date be delayed until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on an honest services statute.
U.S. District Judge James Zagel had said the trial could go on as scheduled even without guidance from the high court on a disputed law that both defendants are accused of violating.
The defense appealed Zagel's ruling to a higher court, which denied the request today.

See full contents of the order just issued by the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals below:

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT
Everett McKinley Dirksen United States Courthouse

ORDER
May 11, 2010
By the Court:
No.: 10-2135
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
Plaintiff - Appellee
v.
ROD R. BLAGOJEVICH and ROBERT BLAGOJEVICH,
Defendants - Appellants
Originating Case Information:
District Court Nos: 1:08-cr-00888-1 & 1:08-cr-00888-6
Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division
District Judge James B. Zagel
The following are before the court:
1. PETITIONER ROD BLAGOJEVICH'S MOTION FOR STAY OF TRIAL
PROCEEDINGS, OR IN THE ALTERNATIVE, APPEAL FROM ORDER
DENYING TRIAL CONTINUANCE, OR IN THE ALTERNATIVE, PETITION
FOR WRIT OF MANDAMUS, filed on May 7, 2010, by counsel for the appellants.
2. GOVERNMENT'S MOTION TO DISMISS ON AN EXPEDITED BASIS
DEFENDANTS' INTERLOCUTORY APPEAL FOR LACK OF JURISDICTION,
filed on May 7, 2010, by counsel for the appellee.
3. GOVERNMENT'S SUPPLEMENT TO ITS MOTION TO DISMISS & RESPONSE
TO DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR STAY, filed on May 10, 2010, by counsel for
the appellee.
4. DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS' RESPONSE TO THE GOVERNMENT'S
MOTION TO DISMISS, filed on May 11, 2010, by counsel for the appellants.
-overAppeal
No. 10-2135 Page 2
IT IS ORDERED that the appeal is DISMISSED for lack of jurisdiction. The appeal is
from neither a final decision nor otherwise immediately appealable.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the alternative request for mandamus relief is DENIED.
The more appropriate manner in which to seek review of the challenged order would have
been to file a separate petition for a writ of mandamus and counsel will be expected to do
so in the future, but we consider the alternative request in the interest of not delaying
matters further. If the charges for deprivation of honest services had been the only pending
counts, the denial of the request to continue the trial pending the Supreme Court's
resolution of the cases pending before it might give us pause. However, the defendants
face additional charges. In addition, the defendants cannot demonstrate that the
challenged orders are effectively unreviewable at the end of the case. United States v.
Vinyard, 539 F.3d 589, 591 (7th Cir. 2008); In re Rhone-Poulenc Rorer, Inc., 51 F.3d 1293, 1295
(7th Cir. 1995). A challenge to an order denying postponement of a criminal trial can be
raised on appeal following resolution of the district court proceedings. See, e.g., United
States v. Santos, 201 F.3d 953, 958 (7th Cir. 2000).
form name: c7_Order_BTC (form ID: 178)


Federal prosecutors this morning asked U.S. District Judge James Zagel to declare Rod Blagojevich's plea for a trial delay "frivolous" and assume the case is moving forward on its June 3rd trial date.
Their plea came after defense lawyers on Friday appealed to the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, asking for a trial delay until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on whether it will hold up a law at issue in the case.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Edmond Chang said the pending appeal to the 7th Circuit shouldn't bring matters in Zagel's court to a halt. Chang argued that business should continue as usual in Zagel's courtroom unless the appeals court acts.
"We now have a June 3rd trial date and we ought to get ready for it," Chang said.
Zagel said he would decide today or tomorrow whether matters should come to a stop.
One of Blagojevich's lawyers, Sam Adam, said the defense's request is reasonable: hold up the trial for three to four weeks until the U.S. Supreme Court has decided whether the disputed honest services statute is unconstitutional.
The court is likely to rule by the end of June.
Rod and Robert Blagojevich are both charged with violating the honest services statute, which says it's illegal to deprive taxpayers of an official's "honest services."
Zagel has already ruled that the underlying facts in the case remain the same with or without honest services in the case and that opening statements can move forward without a supreme court clarification.
The defense says if the high court strikes down the law, their positions at trial will change.
"Any defense lawyer worth anything will tell you that they should know what they're charged with before trial," Adam said. "Our strategy will change if it isn't honest services, no question about it."

4-21-09_jackson_blago_3.jpg

The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has set a schedule to hear out a request by Rod Blagojevich to delay his June 3 trial until after the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the honest services statute.
But the panel has not made a call yet on whether the June 3rd trial date will move.
The high court's ruling on honest services is likely to come by the end of June.
Defense lawyers for Rod and Robert Blagojevich say that's too late.
They need to know the law by the beginning of trial, they say.
U.S. District Judge James Zagel has ruled the trial will begin June 3rd, regardless of whether the supreme court strikes down a law that both Blagojevich brothers are accused of violating.
The defense is appealing, saying their client's constitutional rights are being violated. Prosecutors are asking that the appeal be denied as "frivolous."
The 7th Circuit today issued a briefing schedule that includes a date after June 3rd. But there's no official ruling on an actual trial delay.
In the meantime, the government has entered a number of filings in response to the defense's Friday bid, citing a case that says an appeal should be heard only in "extraordinary circumstances."
"I respectfully disagree," said Michael Ettinger, a lawyer for Robert Blagojevich. "This is
an extraordinary circumstance."
Sam Adam Jr. one of Rod Blagojevich's lawyers, said if the 7th Circuit doesn't allow for a trial delay, they'll appeal to the supreme court.
"We have faith in the 7th Circuit. We believe they realize how important it is that criminal defendants know what they are charged with before they pick a jury," Adam said.

Here's today's docketing info:
"Docketing Statement due for Appellant Robert Blagojevich and Appellant Rod R. Blagojevich by 05/14/2010. Appellant's brief due on or before 06/16/2010 for Robert Blagojevich and Rod R. Blagojevich. Record on Appeal from Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division due by 05/28/2010. Transcript information sheet due by 05/21/2010."


Lawyers for Rod and Robert Blagojevich are appealing a trial judge's decision to go forward with trial June 3 -- before the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on law at issue in the case.
U.S. District Judge James Zagel has said that jury selection and opening statements could go forward even if the high court has not yet ruled on the "honest services statute," which critics say is a broadly worded and broadly interpreted statute that says officials cannot deprive taxpayers of their honest services.
Both Blagojevich brothers are charged with honest services counts. Prosecutors recharged the case to account for a possible high court strike down.
Zagel in April said the case should not be delayed as parties await a ruling.
The motion filed today asks for the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider the issue.
Defense lawyers have said they cannot begin trial without knowing what counts they're specifically up against. They say forcing them to go to trial violates their clients' Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights.
The supreme court is expected to rule by the end of June.

Blagojevich judge: Obey my rulings about the tapes

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There's been much talk about "playing all the tapes" at Rod Blagojevich's upcoming criminal trial.
U.S. District Judge James Zagel has already told the former governor that isn't going to happen.
Now Zagel issued a warning that Blagojevich's lawyers better not spin the truth in front of jurors.
The judge put in a formal order that would bar Blagojevich's lawyers from telling jurors that there's some smoking gun evidence showing Blagojevich is innocent, but they've been barred from bringing it into court.
"Neither side may suggest, even in the most oblique way, that it possesses favorable evidence that the Court excluded," Zagel said.
He noted that both sides are barred from doing this. But it's been Blagojevich and his lawyers who have repeatedly attacked the government and even U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald personally for barring him from playing all the recordings at trial.
Zagel made clear recently that only he decides which recordings are relevant.
He also seemed pretty open to allowing the defense to play what it chooses, so long as Blagojevich takes the stand.
By putting it in writing, Zagel is trying to keep the lawyers honest during trial.
Nothing ticks off a judge more than when a lawyer disrespects a formal ruling.
What it doesn't control is what happens outside the courtroom.
There's nothing barring Blagojevich or one of his lawyers from holding news conferences outside the courtroom.

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