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Inside the Rod Blagojevich investigation and related cases

March 2011 Archives

Blagojevich update: 2 p.m. court hearing canceled

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Former Governor Rod Blagojevich's defense team is back in court today at 2 p.m. but it doesn't appear they'll be talking about a bid to cancel his trial.

An entry on the docket makes reference to a filing that's under seal.

Here it is: PLEASE TAKE NOTICE that on March 22, 2011 at 2:00 p.m., or as soon thereafter as counsel may be heard, we will appear before Judge James B. Zagel at 219 S. Dearborn, Chicago, IL and present Defendant's sealed motion (Docket # 641) in the above captioned case, at which time and place you may appear if you see fit.

Rod Blagojevich's judge scoffed at the ex-governor's request to "cancel" his trial, essentially calling it a publicity stunt.
U.S. District Judge James Zagel said he had no legal authority to dismiss charges, that's something only prosecutors can do.
Blagojevich had asked Zagel to cancel his second trial and sentence him immediately.
Zagel said he believed the request was "intended for an audience different than the court."
But attorneys after court said their filing wasn't simply a press release.
Attorney Lauren Kaeseberg said a defendant does have a right to a speedy trial and a right to assistance of counsel but Blagojevich's team -- which is getting taxpayer funding -- hadn't been paid for months.
They say they could not submit vouchers to get public funding until the judge appointed them.
That appointment didn't come until February. When they submitted their bills, which dated back to October, they hit an impasse facing publicly appointed defense lawyers nationwide: their payment was delayed. They have since been paid through January, Kaeseberg said. Future funding uncertainty remains, however, as Congress has hinted toward cuts to the judiciary.

So did the motion die?
Zagel said he couldn't formally rule on it because lawyers hadn't formally "presented" it to him. Typically, lawyers "notice" a motion to a judge, a secondary entry that alerts the judge to a motion and asks to schedule a court time for debate.
The practice has sometimes been followed in the case, but sometimes not.
Zagel's remarks evolved into a civics lesson, explaining the separation of powers and how he, as part of the judiciary, had no control over the executive branch (prosecutors).
Attorney Sheldon Sorosky said he'd properly "notice" the motion.
But Zagel made clear the filing had no hope.

Publicist: Rod Blagojevich's tsunami not same as Japan's

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Gov. Rod Blagojevich's publicist, Glenn Selig, released this statement in response to the former governor's remarks on a radio program this morning. Blagojevich called his legal predicament "my tsunami."

From Selig:
"The governor never compared the events in his life to the tsunami disaster in Japan. He used the word 'tsunami' as a metaphor to describe how the world crashed around him. Given the utter devastation associated with the tsunami in Japan, it would be absurd to suggest the current catastrophe is anything like the events in his life. He doesn't believe that or think that and, indeed, never said that. For reporters and headlines to suggest otherwise is just plain wrong."

Read the original story on Blagojevich: Click here

Written by Lark Turner

Rod Blagojevich got behind the mic at WLS-890 AM Wednesday morning during which he termed his 2009 ousting as governor "my tsunami" and called Springfield lawmakers "cynical scoundrels."

A characteristically chatty Blagojevich aired scathing critiques of what he termed an "unholy trinity" and "triumvirate" in office in Springfield -- his successor Gov. Pat Quinn, House Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Chicago) and Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago)-- whom he accused of taking advantage of Illinois taxpayers.

"It's a feeding frenzy in Springfield. They are lunching up on your money and it's no accident they're doing it in the months after the election," the former governor said, adding later: "Pat Quinn made a deal with the devil with those two guys [Madigan and Cullerton]. ... He is owned by Mike Madigan, he is afraid of Mike Madigan and he does his bidding."

He said Madigan and Cullerton benefited from relative anonymity to the average taxpayer and said the two were "in the back rooms, literally, in the shadows, literally, they're pulling the strings."

Blagojevich, who was filling in for usual hosts Don Wade and Roma, had a Sunday morning radio show on WLS following his 2008 arrest, a controversial move lasting until his first trial began in 2010. He was convicted during that trial of just one of 24 counts against him, lying to the FBI; he'll be retried on 20 remaining counts beginning April 20.

"I did not lie to the FBI. They threw everything at me but the kitchen sink," Blagojevich told ABC 7's Jason Knowles who called into the show. "I'm seeking vindication."

Blagojevich said he is making no assumptions about whether or not a motion filed last week by his lawyers to cancel his retrial and sentence him immediately would be successful. He said it was "not by any means" an admission of guilt.

The WLS promo for the show alluded to Blagojevich's penchant for using four-letter words. During the show Blagojevich said he's been "working the dictionary" for other words to use.

"John Cullerton isn't an 'effer,'" he said. "He's a rapscallion."

During the show Blagojevich took calls from listeners who joined him in bemoaning the recent tax increases under Quinn (Wade is generally conservative). One caller named "Jack," who seemed to have rapport with Blagojevich from his former radio show, suggested a future career path for the embattled former governor.

"I totally disagree with just about everything you did as governor," he said. "You do handle that microphone pretty well, so I think you've got a bright future, but stay out of politics."

Blagojevich said the caller had frequently accused him of being a poor governor.
"I respectfully disagree," he said.

In addition to roundly criticizing Quinn's recent tax increases and Cullerton's proposal last week to tax pensions for high-earning retirees, he quoted liberally from Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and even Japanese poet Kenji Miyazawa after an interview with an ABC journalist stationed in Tokyo.

The former governor said he would bring in Geraldo Rivera during the hour, but ultimately Rivera wasn't on. Blagojevich was joined by his wife, Patti, at 8 a.m.

If you were wondering how former Gov. Rod Blagojevich has kept quiet this long, wonder no more.
The soon-to-be retried Blagojevich is again allowed a platform to speak on WLS 890-AM. He'll host the show tomorrow from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m.
A move by the radio station that gave Blagojevich a regular show following his 2008 arrest met with some controversy. The station stripped Blagojevich of the show as his 2010 trial was underway.
On Wednesday morning, he'll just work as a fill-in for the regular "Don and Roma" show.
"The time is right, given the events in the city, the state, and the region," Michael Damsky, president and general manager of WLS-AM said in a release. "Rod Blagojevich is an undeniably Chicago character who gets people talking."
Aside from a recent stint on "The Daily Show," and an occasional speaking engagement, Blagojevich has been mum leading up to an April 20 retrial on 20 counts. That is, compared to his media deluge before his first trial.

Here's the WLS promo:
"Good *bleep*ing morning Chicago: Blago to fill-in on WLS
Cue the delay button. Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich will take a seat behind the WLS-AM microphone, this time as a host, subbing for vacationing Don Wade and Roma....Read More

Rod Blagojevich threw a Hail Mary pass Wednesday, saying he wants to cancel his upcoming retrial by asking to be sentenced immediately.

It left legal observers scratching their heads, considering 20 counts remain pending against the former governor.

"It's silly," says Richard Kling, a defense lawyer and Kent Law School professor. "He has no bargaining power with respect to sentencing. To say: 'I'm willing to be sentenced on something I'm already supposed to be sentenced on,' is really saying nothing."

Blagojevich's lawyers filed a five-page motion Wednesday morning asking to proceed to sentencing right away and avoid a retrial that's set to begin April 20, saying in part, that they haven't been paid. A budget crisis in Washington D.C. has recently meant public defenders would have to wait on payments coming from taxpayer coffers.

Kling said that's not a reason for abandoning a case.

"If he wanted to say, I want to negotiate a plea...that might be something the prosecution might be willing to listen to," Kling said.

U.S. District Judge James Zagel and federal prosecutors would have to agree to dismiss the remaining counts against the former governor.

"There's charges pending, the only way they get out of those charges is if the government drops them," says Michael Ettinger, a federal defense lawyer who represented Blagojevich's brother, Robert. Charges against Rob Blagojevich were dropped after the last trial. Ettinger said though it is imperative that defense lawyers get paid in the case.

In the summer, Blagojevich was convicted of just one out of 24 counts against him -- lying to the FBI. That count carries a maximum five-year penalty. Remaining counts could mean up to 20 years in prison.
Jurors in the first trial were deadlocked on the remaining counts. But among those remaining are accusations that the former governor tried selling President Obama's U.S. Senate seat. Blagojevich narrowly missed conviction on the Senate seat counts, with jurors voting 11-1 on many of the charges.

Rod Blagojevich wants to cancel his upcoming retrial, asking to be sentenced immediately, however, prosecutors and the judge would have to approve of the request.

That's a tall order, considering 20 counts remain pending against the former governor, including that he tried selling President Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat. Blagojevich narrowly missed conviction on those counts, some of the most significant in the case, in the first trial with jurors voting 11-1 on many of the charges.

Blagojevich's lawyers filed a five-page motion Wednesday morning asking to proceed to sentencing right away and avoid a retrial that's set to begin April 20.

"A second prosecution of this case is an irresponsible use of taxpayer funds in light of the current economic crisis and Blagojevich's imminent sentencing on the conviction from the first trial," lawyers wrote in the motion.

However, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald late last year said his office actually takes in far more money in fines, seizures and forfeitures than his office's annual budget.

Defense lawyers, who are being paid through taxpayer dollars, complained they haven't been paid. Because of the budget crisis in Washington D.C. public defenders have been told their payments could be suspended temporarily.

(Here's the filing: blagodismiss.pdf)

U.S. District Judge James Zagel and federal prosecutors would have to agree to dismiss the remaining counts against the former governor.

"There's charges pending, the only way they get out of those charges is if the government drops them," says Michael Ettinger, a federal defense lawyer who represented Blagojevich's brother, Robert. Charges against Rob Blagojevich were dropped after the last trial.

In the summer, Blagojevich was convicted of just one out of 24 counts against him. A jury was deadlocked on the remaining counts.

England for Blagojevich? Maybe not.

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Forget about that trip that indicted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich wanted to make to England.

Blagojevich withdrew his request Tuesday to travel to Oxford to speak at the venerable Oxford Union, a "speaking society" that's previously drawn a host of big-name celebrities, ranging from Mother Teresa to O.J. Simpson.

Blagojevich lawyer Sheldon Sorosky said the trip -- which would have required the approval of the judge overseeing the ousted former governor's corruption case -- would have had to be next week and that Blagojevich decided he wouldn't be ready to make the trip by then.

"Even if the judge had allowed him to go, he couldn't get it all together," Sorosky said. "He didn't even know if his passport was expired."

Sorosky added that Blagojevich likely would have had to make it a quick trip.
"It's not like he could have gone to London for two days. We got the feeling it was like the guy who gets out of jail to go to the dentist downtown -- you go, you come back," Sorosky said.
Blagojevich's retrial is scheduled to begin April 20.

Rod Blagojevich's lawyers will be in federal court Tuesday to ask U.S. District Judge James Zagel whether the former governor can travel to England to speak at the venerable Oxford Union.

The former governor is not expected to be in the courtroom as he was back in 2009 when he asked Zagel to allow him to travel to Costa Rica to film a reality TV show.

Located on the Oxford University campus, the Union has drawn the likes of Mother Theresa, the Dalai Lama and Winston Churchill. Another speaker -- O.J. Simpson, after he was found not guilty of murder charges.

Zagel turned down Blagojevich's request back in 2009, saying he'd be better off sticking around and playing a role in his defense. In that instance, though, Blagojevich would have been out of the country potentially for several weeks. (His wife, Patti, went in his stead, and was runner's up in "I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here.")

This time Blagojevich is asking to be gone for just a couple of days. While Blagojevich has been free to travel within country, he must get judicial approval before leaving the United States.

Blagojevich's retrial, which includes charges that he attempted to sell President Obama's vacant Senate seat, is scheduled to begin April 20.

Blagojevich off to jolly 'ol England?

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It's drawn the likes of Mother Theresa, the Dalai Lama and Winston Churchill.
It's also drawn O.J. Simpson.
Now, according to a new federal court filing, Rod Blagojevich could be added to the list of people to speak at the Oxford Union in England.
Blagojevich lawyers say he was invited to speak at the debating and speaking society at Oxford University which calls itself: "the most illustrious student society in the world."
The filing did not specify whether he'd be paid and representatives with the Oxford Union could not be immediately reached.
"Blagojevich has been invited to speak before Oxford Union during their present term, which concludes March 12, 2011," a newly-filed court motion says.
The last time Rod Blagojevich asked to leave the country after his arrest, however, he got a flat denial.
That time, he wanted to film a reality show in Costa Rica.
Because it's outside the country, Judge James Zagel must OK the trip. The request comes more than a month before Blagojevich's April 20, retrial.
That could be an uphill battle, given Zagel's reaction last time -- he told Blagojevich to stay home and focus on his criminal case.
The Union web site says it has an "unparalleled reputation for international guests and speakers."
That includes a pretty wide range: from Mother Theresa to O.J. Simpson.
The Union web site sums up some of its historical speakers:
"In the 1970s, Richard Nixon in his first public speech after Watergate admitted, 'I screwed up - and I paid the price.' In the 1980s, Gerry Adams, still under his television ban, addressed the Union's members. In Michaelmas 1996, O. J. Simpson made his only public speech in Britain after the controversial "not guilty" verdict in his criminal trial. The Oxford Union believes first and foremost in freedom of speech: nothing more, nothing less."

Blagojevich gets immunity -- but not in criminal case

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Rod Blagojevich may be facing retrial in April for criminal charges but he's still entitled to court immunity in another case, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today.
The appeals court ruled that Blagojevich can have immunity from a civil lawsuit filed by the casinos challenging a horseracing bill that Blagojevich signed into law before his 2009 impeachment. The legislation would siphon off casino money and kick it into horseracing. There's some $100 million in a fund now as litigation continues.
Blagojevich was charged criminally with plotting to shake down a horseracing executive for a campaign contribution.
He later signed the bill into law. He didn't get the contribution.
"You're not allowed to just bring governors into court because you make allegations into wrongdoing," said Blagojevich civil lawyer, Jay Edelson. "I think the decision really has wide-ranging implications."
"These huge casinos are saying that Rod ought to pay them money, under a theory that we thought was frivolous. The former governor individually is out of this lawsuit."
A lawyer representing the casinos could not be immediately reached.

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