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Inside the Rod Blagojevich investigation and related cases

April 2011 Archives

Think Blagojevich is guilty? Join his jury!

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An "effen golden" ticket to the Oprah Show has gotten one juror excused from jury duty in Rod Blagojevich's retrial, but defense lawyers are complaining that three people remain in the jury pool even though they initially said they believed the former governor was guilty.

Attorneys took issue in a Friday court filing with three potential jurors who said on initial jury forms that they believed the former governor was guilty.

Judge James Zagel had allowed these people to remain in the jury pool over protests from the defense. Zagel said he had questioned the individuals and remained convinced that they could put preconceptions "to one side" and be fair at trial.

The defense still has a chance to kick the people off the panel, but they will have to use up one of their peremptory strikes to get them off. Other jurors, who Zagel deemed to be unfair (or, in one case because she had a ticket to go to the Oprah Show) were stricken "for cause" by the judge. Blagojevich was asked this week if that woman's Oprah ticket was "golden" as he famously described the U.S. Senate seat appointment on tape.
No, he said, it was "effen golden."

From the defense motion:

#116 who wrote:
"MY PERSONAL BIAS IS THAT HE'S GUILTY"
"Every chance he gets he keeps saying he will testify. I think I would hold it against him if he does not testify."
# 121 who wrote:
"Sounds like defendant is guilty"
# 160 who wrote:
- "I believe he is guilty and has a different private persona and a fake public persona."
- "I followed the trial closely in news and my ringtones are downloaded bleepin' quotes of Rod Blagojevich I got from the Springfield newspaper website."

Blagojevich openings and first witness to come Monday

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Work is finished for the week in Rod Blagojevich's trial, as attorneys just broke to go home.

They'll return Monday morning to issue strikes and pick a final jury from a group of 45.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar said opening statements for the prosecution will take an hour -- maybe less. Ditto for the defense, says Aaron Goldstein, who will be delivering openings for Blagojevich.

And it sounds like prosecutors could get to their first witness that day. That person will be FBI Special Agent Dan Cain, Schar said.

Also Thursday, Schar asked U.S. District Judge James Zagel to keep tabs on the defense opening remarks. Schar complained that the defense used an "advice of counsel" defense last time, in part by saying Blagojevich considered his chief of staff John Harris, an attorney. That's beyond a stretch, Schar argued.

"The only way to get the defense in is for someone to stand up and say: 'I thought that was legal," Zagel said. Zagel said he allowed in some statements in the last trial because Blagojevich's attorney swore that the former governor would take the stand. But then he didn't.

Zagel said even if defense lawyers promise it again this time, he will not base his rulings on those promises.

By Lark Turner

After five days, and dozens of people, jury questioning in Rod Blagojevich's retrial has finally wound down.

Judge James Zagel said this afternoon he thought the parties had enough "qualified" jurors for a final jury pool. Though the final jury won't be chosen until Monday, giving lawyers the weekend to decide who they want to strike.

The end came after some spirited tug-of-wars between the lead prosecutor and defense lawyer Sheldon Sorosky.

Sorosky accused the government of trying to toss potential jurors who were good for the defense under the guise of saying the jurors had hardships. That included one person who said defendants were innocent until proven guilty.

"All of the sudden the government is the kindest person in the world," Sorosky said, sarcastically. "Mr. (Reid) Schar's heart would not allow that to happen."

Attorneys have been working to build a pool of 40 people and by this afternoon, they had 40-plus qualified jurors.

Sorosky got in a spat this morning with Schar, then accusing the government of trying to get a "classist, 'Norman Rockwell" jury. They sparred as Sorosky asked to keep a man who had once stabbed his brother.

Opening statements could then happen Monday afternoon, Judge James Zagel said.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys are currently debating whether they will pick jurors in order of their randomly assigned number or if they will mix up the jury pool now before exercising their 'peremptory challenges,' where they can dismiss a certain number of jurors.


Jury questioning in Rod Blagojevich's retrial is winding down today but final jury picks are expected Monday morning, according to the judge.

Opening statements could then happen Monday afternoon, Judge James Zagel said.

One potential juror questioned today said he tunes out news coverage about the ex-governor.

"Rod is being retried, blah, blah, blah," he wrote on his questionnaire as a response to a question about how much a juror knows about the case. He added in court: "The news is all the same."

The juror was later removed from the pool.

Another juror questioned this morning said he had negative business dealings with a close associate of Blagojevich, who is deceased. At the judge's request, the juror didn't name him; however, he may have been referring to Christopher Kelly, a one-time fundraiser and adviser to the governor who killed himself after pleading guilty to related crimes.

He was since excused from jury duty, along with a woman who wrote that she thought Blagojevich was "guilty as charged."

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

A potential juror with tickets to one of the last tapings of Oprah Winfrey's show, nicknamed "The Oprah Juror," has been excused from jury duty.

U.S. District Judge James Zagel had briefly considered scheduling trial proceedings around the show on May 10, but said at the time that it would probably be "a little over the top." Now out of the potential pool of jurors for Blagojevich's trial, she'll get to use her four tickets and see Oprah live.

Other jurors still in the pool include a probation officer who sometimes works in the Dirksen Federal Courthouse and who knows Zagel. The defense argued to kick her out because she would have a bias toward attorneys, but Zagel said he didn't really think there was much of an "alignment" between the two.

About forty jurors are currently in the pool, and about 15 more will be questioned tomorrow morning before both sides can begin narrowing the pool to 12 jurors and six alternates.

Reporting with Lark Turner


The latest potential juror questioned in Rod Blagojevich's retrial is a federal probation officer who works in the federal courthouse and recognized the judge in the case.

When U.S. District Judge James Zagel gave the woman a hypothetical "assume you're on this jury" the former governor pursed his lips and he and one of his lawyers, Lauren Kaeseberg, laughed. The woman also said it was possible she may have met federal prosecutors but doesn't remember and may have met member of defense.

Another potential juror who is unemployed on disability and who spends his days watching "The Beverly Hillbillies" and "Gunsmoke," reported that he once stabbed his brother in a "family dispute." The man said it was "self-defense."

Also questioned this afternoon was a woman whose husband worked on Blagojevich's congressional campaign, but played a very minor role.

Blagojevich jury selection tougher than expected

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Rod Blagojevich's trial judge, U.S. District Judge James Zagel, indicated this morning that jury selection in the former governor's retrial could drag out through this week.

To the surprise of prosecutors, Zagel said this morning that there were only 18 qualified jurors in a pool -- rather than the 28 that prosecutors believed were in the pool. Zagel said he was certain that his number was correct.

The parties are working to build a pool of 40 people who would not be dismissed for "cause." From 40, each side will issue their own strikes and eventually seat 12 jurors and six alternates.

"This is a relatively long jury selection process for federal court," Zagel said this morning. "It was a highly publicized case."

That would push opening statements to next week.

On top of the number of people who say they had formed opinions about Blagojevich already, many individuals are asking not to be chosen because they have economic concerns -- their jobs won't pay them during the entirety of the service or they're just about to start new work.

Meanwhile, the juror who has tickets to the Oprah show has remained in the pool.

U.S. District Judge James Zagel said that opening statements could come Monday in the case. The day ended with the pool of "qualified" jurors growing to 34.
Jury selection continues Wednesday as 40 is the magic number they need to reach before each side issues their strikes.

Reporting with Lark Turner


The man who said he downloaded "bleepin'" Blagojevich ringtones to his phone has made the first cut onto Rod Blagojevich's jury.

Lawyers for the former governor oppose the man, who used to be the spokesman for the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.

"He is so connected to the political world...he knows inside stories or claims to know inside stories," said Blagojevich attorney Aaron Goldstein. The man's ability to be fair: "It's almost a psychological impossibility."
Goldstein said the man also wrote on his juror questionnaire: "I believe he is guilty."

U.S. District Judge James Zagel disagreed, saying putting previous opinions aside would be: "Not terribly difficult for someone who has the jobs he's had," Zagel said. "I think he's got nobody he's still loyal to."


Reporting with Lark Turner

As the afternoon session of jury questioning continues, Rod Blagojevich faces some stiff opinions.

"It would probably take a strong case on Mr. Blagojevich's part to convince me that he were not guilty," said one female potential juror. Though she later said she could put her opinions aside if she were tapped to be on the jury.

Another man, however, said he's pored through the transcripts and tapes already. He would find it impossible to separate what he's already heard and what happened in the courtroom.

"I don't know that I can just concentrate on certain facts," he told the judge.

"After all the media attention and the appearances in the media of the defendant here, he owes the people of Illinois an explanation, he should take the stand and explain," the same man said in his jury questionnaire.

Yet another woman had strong opinions of the former governor.
In fact, U.S. District Judge James Zagel accused her of inflating her feelings to try to get out of jury service.

"What I wrote in there is exactly how I feel," she told Zagel.

Zagel cut her questioning short.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

A jack-of-all-trades potential juror said he had ringtones on his phone of what he called, according to Judge James Zagel, "the 'bleeping' calls" -- an apparent reference to swearing on some of Blagojevich's secretly-recorded phone calls.

When Zagel mentioned the ringtones, Blagojevich turned and smiled to his wife, Patti, who shot a glance at the giggling press.

The man, who's currently a chef, said some of his skill sets he's collected in various jobs include writing, food and wine, public relations and speech writing. He also used to work for the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.

The man said he used to be a news junkie, but now he only reads or watches 2-3 hours of news a day. To that, Zagel asked, "When does one become a news junkie?" The potential juror said he downloaded the ringtones from a Springfield newspaper's website.

In his questionnaire, the man criticized Blagojevich for not spending enough time in Springfield when he was governor and for his voting record as a congressman.

"I believe he is guilty and has a different private persona and a fake public persona," wrote the juror in his questionnaire, according to Zagel.

Despite all of that, he said he thought he could be fair if he were seated as a juror.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

A jack-of-all-trades potential juror said he had ringtones on his phone of what he called, according to Judge James Zagel, "the 'bleeping' calls" -- an apparent reference to swearing on some of Blagojevich's secretly-recorded phone calls.

When Zagel mentioned the ringtones, Blagojevich turned and smiled to his wife, Patti, who shot a glance at the giggling press.

The man, who's currently a chef, said some of his skill sets he's collected in various jobs include writing, food and wine, public relations and speech writing. He also used to work for the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.

The man said he used to be a news junkie, but now he only reads or watches 2-3 hours of news a day. To that, Zagel asked, "When does one become a news junkie?" The potential juror said he downloaded the ringtones from a Springfield newspaper's website.

In his questionnaire, the man criticized Blagojevich for not spending enough time in Springfield when he was governor and for his voting record as a congressman.

"I believe he is guilty and has a different private persona and a fake public persona," wrote the juror in his questionnaire, according to Zagel.

Despite all of that, he said he thought he could be fair if he were seated as a juror.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

Judge James Zagel's just questioned a juror who is a registered nurse at Children's Memorial Hospital, which prosecutors have accused Blagojevich of shaking down for campaign contributions.

The man works full time at the hospital. He told Zagel he talked about the case with his coworkers during last year's trial, and knew Children's Memorial was involved.

"From the viewpoint of the prosecution, Children's Memorial Hospital is a victim of this offense, and from the viewpoint of the defendant in this case, it was not, in fact, victimized," Zagel told the juror. "Which means there's an issue about the place you work. Would that affect your ability to be fair and impartial?"

"I don't think so," the man replied.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

The overflow courtroom, used by reporters from a few different media outlets, including the Sun-Times, has been reopened. According to one reporter, deputy U.S. marshals said they were "just working out the kinks" as they tried to decide whether or not the room should stay open.

Judge James Zagel is about to reconvene the court after a quick ten-minute break. He's interviewed several potential jurors already this morning, including a man who said his main hobby is keeping up with his six grandkids, and another who wrote on his questionnaire that he thought a relative of Blagojevich's has a "foul mouth." When Zagel mentioned it, Blagojevich turned to his wife Patti, smiled and mouthed the word "You."

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

James Matsumoto, the jury foreperson from Blagojevich's last trial, has showed up to court this morning to watch the third day of jury selection for the ex-governor's retrial.

No word yet on whether or not the U.S. marshals will open the overflow courtroom.

Deputy U.S. marshals are suddenly refusing to open the overflow courtroom this morning, citing limited interest in the trial.

The overflow room is where we file this blog. Representatives aren't responding to requests to open the room, where an audio feed from Judge James Zagel's courtroom plays. They claim they'll only open the room if Zagel's courtroom fills up, an unlikely possibility.

The former governor was greeted in the Dirksen Federal Courthouse this morning by an eager fan who ran up and gave him a hug. After heading through security, Blagojevich said "good morning," and headed over to the windows where construction workers were watching him. He gave the workers a big thumbs-up.

It was the same symbol his lawyer, Sheldon Sorosky, gave to the media when he entered the courthouse earlier this morning.

Zagel will continue questioning jurors today with the goal of getting to a pool of 40 potential jurors, who will then be winnowed down by both sides. Ultimately, 12 jurors and 6 alternates will make the cut.

Blagojevich retrial: Oprah juror can stay -- for now

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Reporting with Lark Turner

Judge James Zagel told both sides to admit it -- they want to keep the "Oprah juror" who said she has tickets to Oprah Winfrey on May 10. The woman told the judge she didn't want jury service to interfere with her going to that show.

Zagel suggested of rescheduling the trial around that day's taping but:
"That seems a little over the top."

Zagel noted that the woman would survive if she couldn't make the show. The defense suggested maybe scheduling that day's proceedings around the show's taping.

Zagel asked the woman if she had one ticket to attend the taping of the show, which will be in its final month of taping in May.

"Four tickets," she corrected him.

By day's end, the woman survived strikes "for cause" as other potential jurors were tossed, including after they cited economic hardship.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

Judge James Zagel has already run through eleven jurors this afternoon, including a one-time Republican donor who's a rock drummer and a retired choral director who worked in a parish.

Other potential jurors:

--Three women who work in dental offices. One, a doctor's assistant, wrote on her questionnaire: "As far as this trial, I believe I have already made a decision about Blagojevich." She said she could probably be impartial, but is concerned about finances.

--A talkative scientist who studies sleep problems, in whose occupation Zagel expressed some passing interest. "How long do they have to sleep" to test sleeping habits, he wondered. "About five hours," answered the scientist, who then launched into an explanation of why that was necessary.

--A soon-to-be college graduate who said he believes the political system encourages corruption, but could probably put that aside if he was a juror. He's unemployed and done with school, and likes socializing with friends and playing video games.

--A male therapist who works in a small practice and has about 30 patients, two of whom might be suicidal.

--An unemployed mother of three who used to work in a manufacturing company and likes arts and crafts.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

A small business owner who was just questioned by Judge James Zagel says his brother lives about six houses down from the Blagojevich home in Ravenswood Manor.

The man, who had a messy jury questionnaire because of a broken thumb, said he's nervous that he would be too anxious about his advertising business to be a good juror in the trial.

Internet is his major source of news. "Do you check it often?" Zagel asks. "It checks me," he replies, adding that it's "coming at" him all the time.

He wrote on his jury questionnaire that politicians "are not to be trusted."

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

Judge James Zagel is about to give a speech to a new set of 24 potential jurors. It will likely be similar to the one he gave the last bunch, when he explained the historical importance of jury duty and the particular importance of being impartial in this case.

Once he's finished addressing them and they are sworn in, Zagel will call the jurors in one by one for questioning.

The Blagojevich-Mell affair, things still not so peachy

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In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times last week, Rod Blagojevich said he'd define his relationship status with his once-estranged father-in-law, powerful Ald. Richard Mell (33rd) as "complicated."

"He's been extremely determined to help Patti as much as he can, and certainly I think he'd be willing to help me," Blagojevich says, pausing. "I don't feel like I . . . I don't feel like I can ask, I don't feel . . . it's just not the nature of the relationship."

Mell spent Thanksgiving and Christmas with the family, and Patti Blagojevich said he showed up for one of his granddaughters' birthday parties this month.

She said her father, who some say kicked off the feds' investigation of her husband after a public dispute over a landfill, regrets any role he might have played. She said she thinks he would "take it back in a minute" if he could.

Asked if Mell would attend the trial to show his support, since things were on the mend.

Rod Blagojevich says his relationship with Mell remains "complicated." And Patti gave a firm "no," saying it could create a sideshow.

Reporting with Lark Turner

A male juror was just called to be questioned out of numerical order. It probably has something to do with the note he's carrying today:

"I'm supposed to start a new job today. I've been unemployed for 16 months. I have documentation that I'm starting today, or suppose to start today," the man tells U.S. District Judge James Zagel.

The man says he was laid off from his last employer, Exxon Mobil and has been trying to find employment.

He also has a stepdaughter who works for NBC-5 Chicago, a friend who was an FBI agent and the man applied to be an FBI and DEA agent 25 years ago, he says.

Zagel didn't immediately indicate whether they'd excuse the individual.

So far, 13 potential jurors were questioned this morning.

We're now breaking until 1 p.m.

Reporting with Lark Turner

A Chicago Tribune employee who runs the "Around the Town" section was just questioned in the retrial of Rod Blagojevich.

He's not likely to make it much further.

The man also once worked at the Chicago Sun-Times and reads a slew of daily newspapers.

He said he'd have a tough time sitting as a juror since he'd be needed at work. U.S. District Judge James Zagel said that was unselfish of him, given the book opportunity he was passing up. The man laughed and said he wouldn't make a very good writer.

Asked if he had anything to do with Blagojevich coverage, the man said he'd read numerous editorials by his newspaper, spoke with people who covered the stories for his paper and noted the "voracious" appetite for the case in general.
"Other than that," he said to much laughter, "No."


Reporting with Lark Turner


A potential juror who was questioned for Rod Blagojevich's retrial this morning, noted on her jury questionnaire that she had a potential conflict in May.

"You don't want to miss Oprah on May 10?" Judge James Zagel asked the woman.

Zagel asked if she had one ticket to attend the Oprah Winfrey Show, whose days in Chicago are numbered.

"Four tickets," she corrected him.

Zagel didn't indicate whether he'd suspend proceedings for the day in the event that the woman, who is a member of AFSCME Local 106, made the final cut and ended up on the jury.

She was one of more than half a dozen potential jurors who were questioned this morning, the second day of jury selection for the former governor's retrial.

Questioning is expected to conclude this week.


Reporting with Lark Turner

We're whipping through jury selection in Rod Blagojevich's retrial this morning, already having questioned seven people. (The media was allowed to remain inside the overflow courtroom afterall.)

Among the potential jurors queried:

-- A male painter who sued the CTA in the late 1970s after he was "run over by a bus."
"How come you lost the case?" U.S. District Judge James Zagel said.
Juror's response: "They had better lawyers than I did." He said he's read some information on the Blagojevich case.

-- A woman who answered on her questionnaire, regarding pay-to-play and politicians: "I don't think it's right but most of them do it."
Could she put aside her general opinions? "I believe I can."

--A woman who thought Blagojevich was off-center after seeing him on reality TV shows. She said she could put aside her opinions of him.

--A woman who owns five dogs and watches "Judge Judy." "When I'm at work it's on.
"It's not much like that here," Zagel says. "I don't want you to be disappointed."

--An African American woman, who was in the Navy and whose child visited a
doctor at Children's Memorial Hospital. (there's an allegation that Blagojevich tried shaking down the hospital for a campaign contribution in exchange for a government act.) She said she didn't pay much attention to Blagojevich's first trial.

Blagojevich retrial: Day two of jury questioning

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Rod Blagojevich's retrial is set to start again this morning with day two of jury questioning.
Last week, we learned that many potential jurors in this pool didn't exactly hold the former governor in the highest regard.

One potential juror referred to Blagojevich as a "nutcase," others told the judge that based on what they heard from the former governor's first trial, they thought he was guilty.

So we continue today as lawyers try to reach the magic number of 40 qualified jurors. There are 13 qualified so far, after nine people were dismissed for "cause" on Thursday.

Once we reach 40, attorneys on both sides can use their strikes and get down to 12 jurors and six alternates.

Also today, an interesting read: Laura Washington's column -- Is Blagojevich Trump's role model?


Blagojevich retrial: Interest dips

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There's so few people attending Rod Blagojevich's proceedings today that deputy U.S. marshals are threatening to close down the overflow courtroom.
(That's the place where we blog).

The former governor, dressed in a dark blue pinstriped suit, wouldn't talk this morning to reporters, shouting that he had work to do.

Reporting with Lark Turner

As jury questioning continues in Rod Blagojevich's retrial, it's clear that the public carries a cynical view of politicians.

One female juror wrote on her questionnaire: "I don't feel any politician plays directly by the book. Most deals involve personal gain."

U.S. District Judge James Zagel asked about another answer on her form.
"You feel that the former governor wasn't playing fair," he says.
Zagel: "He can be a not nice man and a not fair man and still those two things don't constitute a criminal offense, do you understand that?
"Yes," she said.

The next potential juror was among the most colorful of the bunch. Wearing a purple shirt and suspenders, he talked about his assault and battery conviction, his past DUI and his anger management.

"I notice you're not standing up and throwing the microphone at me," Zagel said, in reference to the anger management.

When asked on the questionnaire about the case, the man, #119, wrote: "History will reveal itself."
At that, Blagojevich smiled and leaned forward.


Reporting with Lark Turner

As the quizzing of Blagojevich jurors continues this afternoon, a retired small business owner said he's heard the former governor promise he'd testify so many times, he would hold it against him if he didn't take the stand.
"I think I would have a bias against the defendant," the man told U.S. District Judge James Zagel. Zagel tried pinning down the man, asking if he could follow Zagel's order to not hold it against the defendant if he didn't testify.
"In this trial if he didn't do so I think that would be somewhere in my mind," the man said, again reiterating that Blagojevich made the promise publicly so many times.
"I think I could, but I can't say for sure your honor."

Also questioned was a corporate lawyer, who once worked as a prosecutor in Lake County and later for the Securities and Exchange Commission seemed to be giving signals he wasn't big on sitting on the Rod Blagojevich jury. Besides knowing a lot about Blagojevich, the man said not being able to go to work would be a hardship.

"I think I'm more disappointed in our political system and certain politicians," the potential juror, #115, told Zagel of his opinion on politicians. "The difficulty is ... I'm fairly well versed in the issues surrounding this matter. While I would make every attempt to do so (be fair) I have formulated an opinion."

Zagel then pressed the gentleman if he could meet the challenge.
"If I were sworn in as a juror, I would certainly make every good faith effort to meet that, sure."

The next juror, #116, answered on his questionnaire that he believed that Blagojevich "was guilty." Could he put that view aside if he were seated as a juror? "I believe so."


#Blagojevich halftime report

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By Natasha Korecki and Lark Turner
Chicago Sun-Times

With a pared down legal team and without his codefendant brother, Rod Blagojevich stepped foot into the federal courthouse for the first time since last summer as the start of his corruption retrial began Thursday with jury questioning.
Blagojevich was convicted of just one count in August and now faces retrial on 20 counts, including his alleged attempts to sell President Obama's U.S. Senate seat.
Blagojevich, wearing a dark suit and an enthusiastic smile, looked on as a series of jurors were probed about their exposure to his case and on their thinking of the former Illinois governor.
His smile faded a bit during questioning when U.S. District Judge James Zagel read from the questionnaire of one female juror:
"I thought based on what I heard, he was guilty," she wrote. Asked if she could be fair if she were chosen for jury duty, she said: "I'd like to think I could."
While some jurors said they heard about last summer's trial, many said they did not pay close attention to the media coverage.
Zagel gathered a group of about 40 jurors in his courtroom to give them basic details of the case and of the historical significance of juries; then he began questioning them individually.
The verdict in the case is very important to the parties in it, Zagel said, and so the jurors need to take it seriously.
"You will not be asked whether you like or dislike, approve or disapprove of any person here," Zagel instructed the prospective jurors. "You'll be only asked if you believe the government has proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt."
One female juror said she works at a radio station on promotions three days a week and is a substitute teacher for the other two days.
"So you could have a five-year-old one day and a 17-year-old the next?" Zagel says.
"Yes," she responded jokingly, "and they're equally bad."
Patti Blagojevich and her brother, Richie, sat in the front bench of the courtroom, near the former governor.
Blagojevich did not stop to talk to reporters on his way into the courthouse, yelling to reporters: "Can't," he yelled, and pointed up toward Zagel's courtroom said, "Higher power!"

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

The court's taking a lunch break after U.S. District Judge James Zagel questioned eight potential jurors this morning. Most of them said they don't watch a lot of news and didn't follow the last trial. Zagel asked a few if they thought they could put aside any feelings or opinions they might have about the case; all of them responded that they thought they could.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

Juror #102, a retired African American man who worked construction and operated a forklift, responded quickly when Judge James Zagel asked him what came of charges against him regarding a firearm.

"I beat it," he said. At that, Rod Blagojevich looked up and smiled.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

The first juror questioned by Judge Zagel is #101, a white female in her late 20s or early 30s. who said she didn't follow the trial last year and likes scrapbooking and going to movies.

"This is a little awkward for me but I'm going to have to call you 101," Zagel said.

Juror 101 works at a radio station on promotions three days a week and is a substitute teacher for the other two days.

"So you could have a five-year-old one day and a 17-year-old the next?" Zagel says.

"Yes," she responded jokingly, "and they're equally bad."

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

After Blagojevich's lawyers raised concerns about a question on the jury questionnaire, Judge James Zagel said so long as jurors don't think the entire political system or everyone in it is corrupt, it should be 'fine,' though some prospective jurors were clearly biased.

Jurors were asked whether they thought politicians take money to influence their decisions. Blagojevich lawyer Lauren Kaeseberg said the defense was concerned "a lot of people have an objection to the system," and asked the judge to instruct jurors that the political system is not on trial. One person in particular was obviously "embittered," Zagel said.

"There are a couple of individuals who regard the entire system as corrupt. One individual I can think of .... You can't fail to notice that this person is embittered by life in general ," Zagel said. "That attitude would probably not make for the best juror."

Zagel also said that many jurors probably have legitimate excuses to be dismissed from the jury.

Judge James Zagel gathered jurors in his courtroom to give them basic details of the case and of the historical significance of juries; now, he'll start questioning them individually.

The verdict in the case is very important to the parties in it, Zagel said, and so the jurors need to take it seriously.

"You will not be asked whether you like or dislike, approve or disapprove of any person here," Zagel instructed the prospective jurors. "You'll be only asked if you believe the government has proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt."

Four or five jurors are no-shows, Zagel says.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

When Blagojevich entered the courthouse (after going through security), a group of reporters in the courthouse's media area shouted questions after him.

"Can't!" he yelled, pointing up. "Higher power!"

It's an apparent reference to Judge James Zagel, who's warned the governor about his public comments.

The court is now in session.

It's the first day of jury selection in Rod Blagojevich's re-trial, and he arrived at the Dirksen Courthouse just minutes before he had to enter the courtroom (though many reporters waited for him for hours).

He wasn't required to be here for the first official day of the trial Wednesday because prospective jurors simply filled out questionnaires. Today, they're in the courtroom for the first time.

Apart from a few curious bystanders, no throng awaited Blagojevich this time, though fervent supporter Patty Farley, a 58-year-old Chicago resident, was there to greet the governor as she was on the first day of his trial last summer. Farley was holding a handmade "Madigate" sign that she asked Blagojevich to autograph; calling over his wife, Patti, he obliged.

"You look wonderful!" she said. He smiled, gave her a hug and kissed her on the cheek.
"God bless you," Blagojevich replied before entering the courthouse to head through security.

"If Abraham Lincoln is rolling in his grave," Farley said, referencing a statement by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald when he announced the charges against Blagojevich, "it's because in his beloved state of Illinois, politics totally rules law enforcement."


Rod Blagojevich redux begins today with potential jurors facing questioning and the former governor's first appearance since he was convicted of just one out of 24 counts last summer.

Attorneys on both sides of Rod Blagojevich's criminal case spent last evening sorting through questionnaires filled out by some 150 potential jurors.

"We were told 50 questionnaires were ready," said Blagojevich defense lawyer Sheldon Sorosky as he reviewed the papers Wednesday night. Sorosky said jurors had to answer 100 questions in the questionnaire, including their knowledge of the case, their employment and criminal history.

Math on the jurors:
• 18 will be seated: 12 regular jurors and six alternates.
• The defense will have 13 challenges, the prosecution 9
• That means they must question at least 40 "qualified" jurors, or ones who will survive cause strikes. The judge can agree to strike some candidates for "cause" including the person saying he or she cannot put aside biases.

Game on: #Blagojevich redux begins 9:30 a.m. tomorrow

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Jury questioning, and thus, the true beginning of Rod Blagojevich's retrial, is set to begin at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, according to U.S. District Court Clerk Michael Dobbins.

Some 150 jurors filed into the courthouse Wednesday to fill out questionnaires.

The former governor is expected to be in the courthouse, according to his lawyer.

Let the games begin.



Jury selection in Rod Blagojevich's retrial has started today with a group of 150 potential jurors summoned to the courthouse.

No in-court hearing is scheduled for the day but the potential jurors are now filling out a lengthy questionnaire, according to the U.S. District Court Clerk's office.

The judge is hopeful that actual juror questioning will start Thursday and end by next week, mid-week, said courts spokesman Joel Daly.

U.S. District Judge James Zagel has ruled that jurors in this case will remain anonymous until after they render a verdict.

Rod Blagojevich is not expected to show up today but will be "on stand-by" he said Tuesday.

In a Tuesday interview, Blagojevich said he felt no joy watching his last jury return a mistrial on 23 of 24 counts.
"I felt, this is what happens when you don't put on a defense," he said.

Lawyers for Rod Blagojevich accused prosecutors Monday of attempting to throw the former governor "into a boxing ring with one arm tied behind his back."

" ... It appears the only request left out by the government is that the defense not be allowed to use the words 'not' and 'guilty' in the same sentence," the defense wrote in a strongly-worded response to a motion from prosecutors last week asking the judge to ban certain arguments in the trial, which is set to begin with jury selection tomorrow.

Here are some of the defense's arguments:

• Blagojevich, lawyers said, isn't publicly misleading anyone about 'playing all the tapes.' Playing more could show the jury that Blagojevich didn't plan a "linear" scheme, the filing argues; prosecutors object that the number of tapes is irrelevant to the case and, besides, they don't need to prove Blagojevich had a linear scheme.

• It's their duty, his lawyers say, to question agents' competence in recording Blagojevich.

• If Judge James Zagel agrees to uphold prosecutors' motion to ban some of these arguments in court, the jury will think of the Court as an extension of the government, they wrote.

• The defense responded to a government request to bar any testimony or evidence about events after December 5, 2008, when the Chicago Tribune reported Blagojevich's lobbyist and friend John Wyma was recording conversations with the then-governor. The defense suggests the possibility -- though they say they have no evidence of it -- that the government intentionally leaked the information to the Tribune: "A far more effective argument is that the 'leak' came from the government's cup of water, so to speak." In a retort, prosecutors called this argument "absurd" and irrelevant. To read filing, Click here


"When we went into the deliberation room, we were very confused," said James Matsumoto, the foreperson in Rod Blagojevich's first trial. He appeared on WTTW last night, along with this Sun-Times reporter. I was surprised by a couple of things he said, including that the jurors didn't know they had a case indictment in their possession.

"It was days before we found the indictment, we didn't even know the indictment was in the evidence carts," Matsumoto said.

He said the prosecution wasn't clear enough. He said the defense, namely Sam Adam Jr. and Sam Adam Sr., put on a show.

"They tried to make it a little circus out of the performance, especially the Adams," he said.

Matsumoto though, agreed with a key defense move during the last trial -- not to put on an affirmative defense.
"I think that was the best thing they could do was not mount a defense," he said. "It's not up to them to say the governor is not guilty."


"When we went into the deliberation room, we were very confused," said James Matsumoto, the foreperson in Rod Blagojevich's first trial. He appeared on WTTW last night, along with this Sun-Times reporter. I was surprised by a couple of things he said, including that the jurors didn't know they had a case indictment in their possession.

"It was days before we found the indictment, we didn't even know the indictment was in the evidence carts," Matsumoto said.

He said the prosecution wasn't clear enough. He said the defense, namely Sam Adam Jr. and Sam Adam Sr., put on a show.

"They tried to make it a little circus out of the performance, especially the Adams," he said.

Matsumoto though, agreed with a key defense move during the last trial -- not to put on an affirmative defense.
"I think that was the best thing they could do was not mount a defense," he said. "It's not up to them to say the governor is not guilty."

Reporting with Lark Turner

Federal prosecutors accused Rod Blagojevich of making "clear fabrications" to the public in recent TV appearances and in print interviews as the judge in the case issued a warning to Blagojevich to tone down his media comments.

Meanwhile, prosecutors jabbed Blagojevich for not taking the witness stand in the case.

Top prosecutor Reid Schar grew as emphatic as he has since the case went to trial; "If he wants to continue to lie, he ought to be called on it," Schar told U.S. District Judge James Zagel.

Schar said he was most angered by a Blagojevich TV interview this morning in which he said prosecutors were not allowing him to play recordings he wanted at trial. Zagel has admonished Blagojevich before about such statements, since decisions over evidence fall squarely on the judge.

Schar asked Zagel to offer "some remedy to address what are clear fabrications he's not being called on." Schar called the statements a direct attempt to poison the jury pool as jury selection is set to begin on Wednesday for the retrial.

Zagel issued a warning to Blagojevich to tone down his on-air rhetoric and said lawyers should consider the judge's words in court a "red flag."

"He could, if he hasn't already done so, step over the line," Zagel said of Blagojevich's repeated public statements. "I know few defense counsel who encourage this." He later added: "You can consider my remarks today as a red flag."

Schar said prosecutors did not complain about Blagojevich's frequent on-air appearances before last summer's trial because they believed Blagojevich would take the witness stand and they would have a chance to show: "that it's absurd and he's a liar."

But Schar said he increasingly doubts Blagojevich will take the stand. Blagojevich hasn't promised this time around and his lawyers won't say either.

Schar called a recent TV interview where Blagojevich again brought up the recording issue "phenomenal in terms of fabrication."

Blagojevich's lawyer, Shelly Sorosky, tried interjecting by saying perhaps Blagojevich
grew confused over the law. Bristling, Schar cut him off, noting Blagojevich is a former attorney and prosecutor.

"These are his talking points," Schar said. "This is not a mistake."

Leaving court, Sorosky had nothing further to say.

"I'd better not say anything," he said.


Reporting with Lark Turner

Federal prosecutors were up in arms in court today over what they called "clear fabrications" Rod Blagojevich has made to the public in recent appearances on TV and in print interviews. Meanwhile, they jabbed Blagojevich for not taking the witness stand in the case.

Top prosecutor Reid Schar grew as emphatic as he has since case went to trial.

"At a certain point, enough's enough," Schar told U.S. District Judge James Zagel. "If he wants to continue to lie, he ought to be called on it."

Schar asked Zagel to offer "some remedy to address what are clear fabrications he's not being called on."

"This is just part of an attempt by him [Blagojevich] to poison what's going on. There's no misunderstanding," Schar said. "It's not justifiable, particularly the week of jury selection."

Zagel launched a warning to Blagojevich to tone down his on-air rhetoric.

"You can consider my remarks today as a red flag," Zagel said, "and maybe we'll have to deal with it again, maybe we won't."

Schar said prosecutors did not complain about Blagojevich's frequent on-air appearances the last trial because they believed Blagojevich would take the witness stand and they would have a chance to show "that it's absurd and he's a liar."

But Schar said he increasingly doubts Blagojevich will take the stand. Blagojevich hasn't made any promises this time around and his lawyers won't say either.

Schar said he was most angered by Blagojevich's recent TV appearances in which he said that prosecutors were not allowing him to play recordings he wanted at trial. Zagel has admonished Blagojevich before about such statements, since decisions over evidence fall squarely on the judge.

Schar called a recent TV interview where Blagojevich again brought up the recording issue "phenomenal in terms of fabrication."

Blagojevich's lawyer, Shelly Sorosky, tried interjecting by saying perhaps Blagojevich grew confused. Bristling, Schar cut him off.

"These are his talking points. This is not a mistake," Schar said.


Reporting with Lark Turner

Rod Blagojevich's judge, U.S. District Judge James Zagel, today denied the former governor's lawyers access to a report of President Obama's FBI interview.

Agents interviewed Obama after Blagojevich's 2008 arrest. At the time, Obama was President-elect and transitioning into the White House. He was interviewed as part of the investigation into Blagojevich, since the ex-governor was accused of plotting to sell Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat.

While FBI notes for other witnesses were turned over -- including Rahm Emanuel and Valerie Jarrett -- Obama's were not given to the defense.

Zagel said he read over Obama's report again after the defense made another attempt at seeing them.
"There is nothing in the report that could be used at trial," Zagel said.

Blagojevich's attorneys said they believed that witness Tom Balanoff, a union chief, had testified in last summer's trial to something that was counter to what Obama had said publicly regarding his staff's contacts with Blagojevich's staff.

However, Zagel said he didn't find anything in the report that would help the defense "impeach" Balanoff's testimony when he takes the stand in the retrial.

Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's trial will not be delayed by several weeks as his attorneys had asked today.

U.S. District Judge James Zagel swiftly denied the bid to delay the trial during a hearing today, which they said they needed because they have been busy sorting out legal issues over the last several weeks.

After court, Blagojevich attorney Sheldon Sorosky would not say whether the former governor would take the stand this time around or whether jurors would be promised they'd hear from Blagojevich during opening statements.
"I don't think any good lawyer can make that decision until the government rests," Sorosky said.

During the first trial, Blagojevich's attorney, Sam Adam Jr. had promised jurors his client would take the witness stand. Blagojevich then did not take the stand and did not call any witnesses or play recordings in his defense.

Also today, Sorosky complained about some of the government's evidence at trial that sought to show Blagojevich's lavish spending on nice suits. Sorosky wants to ask the witnesses whether it's illegal to spend lavishly. But Zagel had a different suggestion: he'd tell the government to curb some of that evidence if the defense wanted.

Prosecutor Reid Schar said the evidence was offered to show that Blagojevich was "spending his money more recklessly" and that's why he needed money later.

An analysis of Blagojevich's credit card bills showed he spent more on suits than any other expenditure in his household.

What #Blagojevich didn't say in news conference today

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Former governor Rod Blagojevich gave a news conference timed for TV and appeared to be aimed at a pool of potential jurors who will be called to federal court in a matter of days.

He spoke of his record as a governor. Then he once again complained about government recordings.

"They took selective snippets out of context," Blagojevich said of his secretly-recorded conversations. "To distort the truth and twist what is actually happening."

"Every time my lawyers tried to play tapes that would show my innocence, they objected," Blagojevich said of the prosecution.

Blagojevich didn't mention whether he would testify this time around. He didn't last time. His defense rested with no witnesses. And without playing one recording.

But if Rod Blagojevich does take the stand, according to the judge in his case, he'll have broad control over the recordings he can or cannot play in his defense.

Blagojevich also mentioned that the government filed a 24-page motion trying to block evidence or tapes. Here's our post on that motion: (click here) it actually served as a reminder that it's up to the judge -- and not the prosecution -- to allow recordings into the trial.

Here's our evening story on his news conference: Blagojevich news conference


Rod Blagojevich, who has been uncharacteristically quiet, will make a statement from in front of his Ravenswood Manor home today at 5 p.m.

Is this a surprise announcement that he will find a way to circumvent his trial, like, by offering some kind of guilty plea?
"No, absolutely not," said his lawyer, Sheldon Sorosky. "The man truly feels that he is innocent."

The event is scheduled from 5:03 p.m. to 5:06 p.m., presumably in the hopes that TV will carry his statement live.

It is not a news conference. That means Blagojevich can say what he wants live (to the ears of a listening jury pool) but then won't take any questions.

Blagojevich's retrial starts next week, Wednesday, with jury selection. He has a hearing in court tomorrow.

Sorosky said Blagojevich might talk about some recent legal rulings involving Children's Memorial Hospital and a racetrack scheme. The defense is disputing how the prosecution wants to present that evidence.
Another clue might be this recently filed motion by defense lawyers: "SEALED MOTION by Rod Blagojevich Objections to the Government's Original Proposed Redactions in Recordings Offered for Admission."

Blagojevich has often portrayed the government as trying to keep him from showing exonerating evidence --including recordings -- to jurors.

Anticipating this move, prosecutors filed a motion this week asking the judge to bar lawyers from making that argument to jurors.

But that wouldn't keep Blagojevich from saying it outside the courtroom.

Blagojevich did something similar just before last year's trial, when he all but challenged U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald to a fist-fight.

A press release from Blagojevich's publicist also includes this below:

MORE INFORMATION:
On April 12, news media outlet the Chicago Tribune filed a motion challenging the "Wholesale Filing of Pleadings Under Seal" to exercise its First Amendment and common law rights to gain access to Sealed Pleadings.
-Download Chicago Tribune motion www.prnewschannel.com/pdf/Media_Motion_re_Sealed_Filings_4-12-11.pdf

On April 11, Federal prosecutors filed a motion to further limit evidence the jury and the public sees and hears.
-Download Patrick Fitzgerald, US Attorney for Northern District, motion
www.prnewschannel.com/pdf/Govt_consolidated_motions_in_limine_4-11-11.pdf


The Chicago Tribune is asking a judge to make public a series of filings in the Rod Blagojevich case that are being kept secret.
(To read the filing Click here).
Tribune lawyers filed court papers asking that the "wholesale filing of pleadings under seal,"
stop.
Attorneys say that since Feb. 22, 16 court filings were made in secret. The attorneys say there was no attempt to keep even portions of those filings in the public. In the filings they cited, Blagojevich's lawyers filed original pleadings in secret and the government subsequently resigned
"A long line of Supreme Court decisions recognize a presumptive right of public
access to the criminal justice system - including specifically pretrial pleadings and hearings,
which often are as important as the trial itself," attorneys for the Chicago Tribune wrote.
The trial starts a week from today with jury selection.
Attorneys in the case are scheduled to meet in court Thursday.

In a repeat of what was asked for during last year's trial, government prosecutors asked Judge James Zagel Monday to ban some arguments by the defense--including one to exonerate the former governor by 'playing all the tapes' of conversations recorded on wiretaps.

It's an argument Blagojevich himself has used many times in public statements and interviews, and which was banned in the first trial.

Before the first trial, Zagel ruled neither side could suggest there was evidence that was not allowed to be played in the trial. The result of that argument, he wrote, would be "a free for all" that is "just plain lawless."

"The Court has also made clear that the Court, rather than the government, is the final arbiter of what is, and what is not, presented to the jury," prosecutors wrote in the motion. "Yet the defense has continued to suggest otherwise."

The issue will come up at a hearing Thursday morning.

Blagojevich, Jackson donor under investigation

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A federal grand jury has subpoenaed at least 30 doctors in the Chicago area as part of a probe into a wealthy Indian-American fund-raiser who owns surgical centers -- and has ties to U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, sources told the Chicago Sun-Times.

The FBI and IRS investigation is centered on businessman and political fund-raiser Raghuveer Nayak, a longtime fund-raiser for and donor to congressman Jackson. Nayak told investigators after Blagojevich's 2008 arrest that congressman Jackson asked him during a visit to Washington D.C. to approach the then-governor with a $6 million offer of campaign money in exchange for a Senate seat appointment.

Blagojevich faces retrial next week regarding the alleged Senate seat sale, among other charges. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. has not been charged with wrongdoing and staunchly denied Nayak's allegations.

Read the full story here.

Written by Lark Turner

As it prepares for Rod Blagojevich's impending retrial, the government is looking to spare jurors from hearing superfluous exchanges caught on tape -- including a conversation between the former governor and his brother regarding their signature locks.
The defense has objected to omitting the call, where Robert Blagojevich references a donor's wife.
"She loves our hair, by the way," Rob tells his brother, according to the transcript. "Loves your hair and loves my hair and because it's all real."
The two go on to discuss travel over Christmas and upcoming fundraisers.
Prosecutors proposed tossing out sections from three other calls -- including one involving President Obama. In a call between Blagojevich and lobbyist and consultant Doug Scofield, Blagojevich complains about the position he is in following Obama's victory in 2008, calling Obama a "demi-god." The defense though wants jurors to hear that section.
In another call, prosecutors moved to block out a discussion of Blagojevich's possible impeachment on a conference call and what positions Blagojevich could ask Obama to appoint him to in exchange for naming Valerie Jarrett to the Senate seat.
The final redaction objected to by the defense deals with a discussion of Rahm Emanuel's appointment as Obama's Chief of Staff and what will become of his congressional seat.


Rod Blagojevich's lawyers are again asking for notes from the FBI's interview with President Obama.

The interview happened in late 2008, following former governor Rod Blagojevich's arrest.
In the course of the Blagojevich investigation, the FBI and prosecutors interviewed Obama, along with Rahm Emanuel and Valerie Jarrett, just as they were transitioning into the White House. Investigators wanted to ask them about their interactions with Blagojevich, charged with scheming to sell Obama's vacant Senate seat.

Defense lawyers complain that if Obama were anyone else but the president, they would have the FBI notes from the interview (which is called a 302).

"Based upon the content contained in the disclosed 302s of other individuals that were tendered by the government, the Obama 302s at issue would almost certainly have been disclosed if the interviewee was anyone other than the President," Blagojevich's lawyers wrote. "The mere fact that these summaries are from FBI interviews with the President does not make them non-discoverable."

Last year, attorneys asked U.S. District Judge James Zagel to subpoena Obama and to release the interview notes. Both questions were denied.

Attorneys argue that the notes would help them better cross-examine SEIU leader Tom Balanoff, who testified last summer at Blagojevich's first trial that he received a call from Obama the night before the presidential election. Balanoff said he saw that call as a signal to move forward and have discussions with Blagojevich about the possible appointment of Valerie Jarrett to the U.S. Senate seat.

Blagojevich's team says that contradicts an Obama team report that was issued Dec. 23, 2008, which "...states that President Obama did not direct anyone to speak on his behalf regarding the White House's preferences for the Senate seat appointment," Blagojevich lawyers wrote.

Click here to read the filing: Request for FBI 302 Interview Summaries of Barack Obama

Click here to read the report: Obama Report

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