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

December 2011 Archives

Blagojevich lawyers say they acted "in good faith"

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Kaeseberg and Blagojevich's other lawyers defended themselves after the brief hearing.

"I stand by the motion -- the motion was absolutely filed in good faith," Kaeseberg said. "Frankly, I'm disappointed because I know we filed this motion in good faith ... I'm proud of the work I've done on this case ... I'm actually proud of the motion."

Kaeseberg has been practicing criminal law since she was sworn in as a lawyer in 2008, she said. As a defense lawyer, she would be negligent if she found out a juror may have committed a rule violation and she did not investigate.

"The issue is trying to resolve whether she has something in her possession that we don't think she should have," Kaeseberg said "We are not allowed to speak to the jurors ourselves. The only way we can really resolve it and find out is by going to Judge Zagel and asking him to have a hearing."

Co-counsel Aaron Goldstein added, "Quite frankly We would not be good attorneys if we didn't file this motion."

Asked if they were prepared to apologize to jury forewoman Connie Wilson , Goldstein said, "We in no way intended to hurt Ms. Wilson in any way."

Asked about the "hare-brained" comment, lead attorney Sheldon Sorosky quipped, "I don't know, I don't have a lot of hair."

Goldstein chimed in: "He doesn't have hair - I don't have a brain."

-Abdon M. Pallasch

Blagojevich judge dismisses motion as "hare-brained"

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By Abdon M. Pallasch

U.S. District Judge James Zagel took a mere three minutes Monday morning to dismiss a motion by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's attorneys as "hare-brained."

Blagojevich's attorneys sought a new trial based on a report that the jury forewoman had displayed a juror questionnaire in a public talk she gave about the trial. Those questionnaires are not supposed to be taken from court, Blagojevich

Just beyond belief, attorney Lauren Kaeseberg argued.

It was unclear whether the forewoman displayed a filled-out or blank questionnaire.

"The motion was prepared without any adequate thought," Zagel scolded Kaeseberg. "You should seek outside counsel ... and send a letter of apology to the juror."

Zagel said he could hold Kaeseberg in contempt of court but was cutting her slack because she was a fairly new lawyer.

"By the absence of precedent, I assume you couldn't find precedent," Zagel said, calling the filing "beyond my imagination."

Zagel two weeks ago sentenced Blagojevich to 14 years in prison on charges of trying to use his office to enrich himself.

Cellini juror issue holds but reporters off the hook

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By Abdon M. Pallasch
Political Reporter/apallasch@suntimes.com

Reporters are off the hook in the effort to secure a new trial for convicted power broker William Cellini.

U.S. District Judge James Zagel dropped efforts Wednesday to compel reporters for the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune to produce notes of any interviews they conducted with a juror in Cellini's trial who concealed two felony convictions when she was filling out paperwork to serve on the jury.

Cellini still is on the hook for his conviction of trying to extort money from "Million Dollar Baby" Producer Tom Rosenberg so that Rosenberg's investment firm could get a share of the state Teacher Retirement System pension fund.

Juror Candy Chiles, who has convictions for drunk-driving and crack cocaine possession, was not in court Wednesday. Zagel said she had called his office Tuesday to say she was in the hospital and would not be able to attend.

Zagel suspended the hearing until she appears in court, possibly later this week.

Cellini attorney Dan Webb told Zagel he objected to even having a hearing. He said Zagel should skip the hearing and proceed directly to a new trial for Cellini.

"Under the law, you are not eligible to serve on a federal jury ... if you are convicted of a felony," Webb said. "Why would someone lie to get on a jury unless they have some type of bias? What I want to establish is that she knowingly and willingly lied on these questions."

Webb noted the irony that he and the government are now on the opposite sides of where they were in the trial of former Gov. George Ryan, who was also represented by Webb. In that case, prosecutors got a woman thrown off the jury because she concealed her arrest record.

After Cellini was found guilty, Tribune reporter Annie Sweeney wrote about her exchange with the juror in which Sweeney asked her about the felony convictions and the woman refused to discuss them. Sun-Times reporter Maudlyne Ihejirika also interviewed the juror but there was no discussion of the woman's arrest record.

Zagel ruled there would be no benefit in compelling either paper's reporters to appear in court or turn over notes.

"There's no reason to require them to appear," Zagel said, adding that any additional detail Webb might find in Sweeney's notebook about the interview, which she already wrote about, would be "trivial."

Zagel assured Webb that "having seen reporters' notebooks" there was likely little fodder to be found that would help Webb make a case.

Journalism watchdog groups expressed relief Wednesday that Zagel dropped, at least for now, efforts to compel reporters to turn over their notes.

"We are independent witnesses to the news and not arms of the court -- this is an action not only journalists should celebrate but anyone who cares about a free press," said Stephen Franklin, president of the Chicago Headline Club, the country's largest chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Scott Fawell, the former chief of staff of a different convicted governor, George Ryan, is offering a tip on how Rod Blagojevich can cut his lengthy 14-year sentence.

The former governor may be able to make a request with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to take part in a substance abuse program.

Fawell said that's what he did before going into prison.

"What you do is say that in between the time you're sentenced and the time you report, you just couldn't stop drinking," Fawell said.

It shaved time off of Fawell's 78-month sentence he received for corruption that happened while he worked for Ryan. He went through a nine-month program in prison, then got six months off in a halfway house plus one year of credit for doing the program. That's on top of time off for good behavior.

Read the rest of the story here: Start drinking

Fitzgerald on Blago: 'We don't want to be back here again.'

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U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, flanked by 17 other government officials, reacted to Rod Blagojevich's 14-year sentence, calling it "profoundly sad."

Fitzgerald said that having two Illinois governors convicted of crimes in the same century would be too much.

"We've seen it happen twice in five years," Fitzgerald said, calling it "profoundly sad."

"The public has had enough and judges have had enough," Fitzgerald said. "This needs to stop. To put it very, very simply, we don't want to be back here again. .. the short answer is, this must stop."

Fitzgerald said he felt for the Blagojevich children but noted that it's often the family who pays when a criminal gets caught.

"What happened to the family is a very sad situation," Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald famously said after Blagojevich's 2008 arrest that "Lincoln would be rolling over in his grave," if he knew of Blagojevich's conduct.

Asked what Lincoln would be doing today, Fitzgerald said:"I'm going to be dull today, I'm not going to comment."

Blagojevich quotes Kipling on his way out of court

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Blagojevich and his wife stopped very briefly in the lobby of the federal building to address the press. He started, as he has been known to do, by quoting Kipling:

"Rudyard Kipling, among the things he wrote was, 'If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same: Patti and I - and especially me -- this is a time to be strong and this is a time fight through adversity. This is a time for me to be strong for my children. To be strong for Patti. This is also a time for Patti and me to go home so we can explain to our kids, to our babies, Amy and Annie, what happened, what all this means, and where we're going from here. We're going to keep fighting on, through this adversity. We'll see you soon."

Blagojevich and his wife and attorneys left without responding to any questions about any plans for an appeal.

-Abdon M. Pallasch

Blagojevich gets Christmas with the family

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Blagojevich will be home for the holidays. He doesn't have to report to prison until February.
Patti Blagojevich did not cry after the sentence was imposed but put her hand up to her mouth.
The former governor himself slightly sunk his head. He was seated.
After court was over, Patti Blagojevich buried her head in her husband's chest.

Blagojevich Judge's sentencing lecture

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"In the United States, we don't much govern at gunpoint," Zagel said. "We require willing ... participation.
This happens most easily when people trust the person at the top to do the right thing most of the time and more important than that to try to do it most of the time. When a state senator takes a bribe, that's one person out of 59.
You are not to be compared with those who hold lesser positions in government. You, as a governor are seen to control all of them, though I concede in practice you don't."

Looking at Blagojevich, Zagel finished, "When it is the governor who goes bad, the fabric of Illinois is torn and disfigured and not easily or quickly repaired. You did that damage."

With that, Zagel sentenced Blagojevich to 168 months -- 14 years in prison. Presuming he serves 85 percent of that, his 15-year-old daughter will be at least 27 when he gets out.

-Abdon M. Pallasch, Natasha Korecki & Lauren Fitzpatrick

Blagojevich gets 14 years

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Disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was sentenced Wednesday to 14 years in prison after he made a final plea for leniency, acknowledging his guilt and saying, "I am unbelievably sorry. ... I have nobody to blame but myself for my stupidity and actions.

"The harm here is not measured in the value of money and property," Judge Zagel tells Blagojevich.

"The harm is the erosion of the public trust in government; [people's] confidence in and trust in government," Zagel said.

'Sorry' Blagojevich gets 14-year prison sentence
Political reaction: No joy, but he had it coming
Amy Blagojevich's letter to Judge Zagel
Key dates in Blagojevich case

Judge finds Blagojevich accepted responsibility

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Judge Zagel said he was satisfied that Blagojevich accepted responsibility for his actions instead of blaming his aides.

That means less prison-time eligibility

He will also get mitigation credit for All Kids.

"I don't doubt his devotion to his children, bit this is not ... exceptional in my own experience," Zagel said. "I see case after case where good fathers are bad citizens. There is no question that the innocent children of felons suffer. This is tragic. But, as he admits, the fault of this lies with the defendant alone. Now it is too late."

-Abdon M. Pallasch, Natasha Korecki and Lauren Fitzpatrick

Prosecutor says sentences up to now too low

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Combating a defense argument from yesterday that sentencing corrupt politicians in Illinois up to now has not had a deterrebnt effect, Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar told Judge Zagel that's because judges haven't been sentencing them to long enough terms.

"It goes to show that sentences have not been high enough so far," Schar said. "We should not throw in the towel. There is simply a need to increase punishment."

"A message must be sent to this defendant and others that the consequences are higher now than ever before," Schar said

"A sentence of between 15-20 years ins appropriate in this case," Schar said.

Zagel about to rule

Blagojevich finishes, walks away red-eyed

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Blagojevich left the lectern red-eyed and teary after his address to Zagel, who stared back at him plainly, at times taking notes.
Blagojevich walked over to kiss Patti on the head and she had a pained look on her face. Before his address, he touched her hand and whispered: -"I love you."
During his talk to Zagel, Blagojevich's voice was low, somber and, at times, strained.
A hush grew over the courtroom, and, at times you could only hear the scribbling of pens on paper.

Blagojevich is now standing with Patti and lawyers in noisy courtroom. He's rubbing her back as they wait.

Court is resuming

Blagojevich apologizes to his children

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When the verdicts were being read, Blagojevich told Judge Zagel he knew after the first one that he would be convicted on most of them.

"All I could think about was how soon Patti and I could be home with our kids," he said. "A lot of media surrounds our home during these periods. Patti made it into the house first. Both of my children were, of course, upset. My younger daughter, Annie, was crying. I didn't take us long to calm her down...

"Amy, my teenager, she's 15. She was 14 then. She's a heroine...
"She's number-2 in her class in high school...

"My daughter didn't want to accept it. She begged me to go outside and talk to the media, 'Tell them you didn't do it, that it was wrong.'
"I had to tell her I had my trials, not once but twice.
"I was, under the law, found guilty of these crimes. The fight was over. It was time to accept this -- I needed to accept this and that I couldn't go out and tell the press anything other than what had happened. I couldn't go out and pursue the fight.

"My life is in ruins.
"I'm in no position to earn a living for my children.

"I can't be a lawyer. We have to sell our home.

"I want to thank Patti. She has stood by me in the worst of times, not just the best of times.

"Now my kids have to go out there and know that their dad's a felon. Its not like their name's 'Smith.' They cant hide.

"I accept the people's verdict, Judge, they found me guilty."

-Abdon M. Pallasch, Natasha Korecki & Lauren Fitzpatrick

Blagojevich apologizes for 'trying the case in the media'

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"I want to take this opportunity to apologize to you for fighting this case in the media," Blagojevich told Judge Zagel.

"I also want to apologize for challenging the prosecutors. I was very keen on your comments yesterday on how I saw it as a 'boxing match. 'I saw it actually that way. I studied Alexander Hamilton, back in the 18th Century... It was inappropriate. It was childish and not productive."

Blagojevich apologized for all his comments he said were "immature...petty...ugly...self-centered...self-absorbed."

"If this case was about being self-absorbed, I would have walked in and plead guilty immediately," Blagojevich said.

-Abdon M. Pallasch, Natasha Korecki & Lauren Fitzpatrick

Blagojevich's apology, continued

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"There is a line between routine politics, political horse-trading, political fund-raising. How you ask for political funds.
It was always my intention to try to see if I could do those things on the right side of the line.
I thought they were permissible.
I was mistaken.
The jury convicted me.
Those were my actions.
Those were things I did; talked about doing.
I am responsible for that.
I caused it all. I'm not blaming anybody.
I was the governor and I should have known better."

-Abdon M. Pallasch, Natasha Korecki & Lauren Fitzpatrick

More Blagojevich apology

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"I have nobody to blame but myself for my stupidity and actions and the things I did and I thought I could do. I'm not blaming anybody.

"I never set out to break the law. I never set out to cross lines."

Blagojevich apologizing

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Blagojevich is admitting he's self-absorbed, saying he's sorry for fighting the case in the media. He's is saying he blames no one else and takes all responsibity

Blagojevich targetted quips for each juror, prosecutor says

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Blagojevich "Spent seven days on the witness stands perjuring himself -- he tried to lie his way out of a guilty verdict," Assistant U.S. Attroeny Reid Schar said.

"He testified Lisa Madigan was his first choice for the senate seat. That was a lie," Schar said. "He lied repeatedley. He is incredibly manpulative and he knows how to be. To his credit, he is clever about it."

From press accounts of the jurors, Schar said he could tell that the jurors saw through his efforts.

"Twelve people in a jury box -- he caters to them to get what he wants," Schar said. "The government caught it. I'm happy to see, based on the press reports, that jurors caught it. He managed to hit on things... There was a juror from Boston. Suddenly we heard how he loved the city of Boston. To a juror who had opened a Greek restaurant. [Another worked in a library] He said he loved to study at the library and on the way there would stop by the Greek restaurant to get a cup of coffee."

Judge Zagel laughed at that.

"He wanted to manipulate the audience to help himself."

Blagojevich was cracking jokes up until the hearing started. He told a reporter that her son should get away from studying political science: "It doesn't pay for college." She says that's he's interested in criminal justice and his smile widens. "Let me know if you want me to talk him out of that," he said, heading back to the defense table.

-Abdon M. Pallasch and Natasha Korecki

Blagojevich's actions caused real harm, prosecutor says

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"The defendant in this case held up funding to every children's hospital in the state of Illinois for 30 days," Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar said. "That was a real harm."

"He sat on legislation for ... days that would have helped the entire horse-racing industry," Schar said.

Schar is attacking the defense arguments from Tuesday that Blagojevich's actions were "no big deal" because he eventually signed the legislation. He only signed the horse-racing and legislation and released the money for the children's hospital after he was arrested, Schar said.

He also left Illinois with just one vote in the U.S. Senate while important votes were being taken, Schar said.

Blagojevich hearing resumes

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The former governor is in court, his eyes looking a bit tired. Black suit. Silver tie.

Patti Blagojevich just turned to Sun-Times Federal Courts reporter Natasha Korecki -- due to give birth next week -- with a request that her water break now

-Natasha Korecki with Abdon M. Pallasch

Ominous day expected for former Gov. Rod #Blagojevich

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Rod Blagojevich suffered a punishing first day of sentencing as U.S. District Judge James Zagel rejected virtually every legal argument the defense made, accused him of concocting a story about his plans for a U.S. Senate appointment and raised doubts about everything from whether the former governor really "came from nothing" to whether he was truly an "extraordinary father."

The setbacks foreshadow what's expected to be an ominous final day of the sentencing hearing on Wednesday in which Blagojevich himself is expected to make a personal appeal to the judge.

The defense asked Zagel to show the former governor mercy by focusing on a father being away from his daughters, 15 and 8, who were not in court. The emotional appeal may be among the ex-governor's only chances for leniency as the possible length of his sentence seemed to ramp up as he lost every major legal battle he faced.

Rejecting a series of defense arguments, Zagel said Blagojevich's crimes technically qualify him for a crippling prison term of 30 years to life -- though the judge quickly deemed that inappropriate "in the context of this case."

Still, it signaled the improbability of Zagel granting the kind of leniency the defense seeks -- less than 3 ½ years. Prosecutors asked for 15 to 20 years.

Read today's story, which offers a recap of Tuesday's events in Chicago federal court: click here

#Blagojevich sentencing -- what's on deck today

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By Natasha Korecki
Chicago Sun-Times

After suffering a series of legal blows on Tuesday, Rod Blagojevich will have his chance to address the man who is to sentence him -- U.S. District Judge James Zagel.

Blagojevich appeared prepared to give those remarks yesterday. As he waited for court to start on Tuesday he furiously dug into his legal notepad. The entire sheet was filled with blue ink and the ex-governor was scratching out words, putting in new ones. He'd ask his lawyer a question then scratch out something else.

As the day wore on and it became clear he wouldn't address the court, the former governor sat more often with his hands folded, occasionally glancing back at his wife, who was seated in the front row.

Today, Blagojevich will have his chance to speak to the judge directly. At this point, after Zagel ruled that technically the ex-governor faces up to life in prison, an apology seems inescapable.

Up today:

Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar, the lead prosecutor on the case, will speak first at the 10 a.m hearing. He'll address Zagel on the prosecution's position. Schar said he would take just 20 minutes (not counting questions posed by the judge during his comments). Given Zagel's series of rulings on Tuesday that went for the prosecution, Schar probably doesn't need much more time than that to convey the prosecution's wish for 15 to 20 years of prison.

Rod Blagojevich speaks. Typically in a sentencing hearing, the defendant speaks last and that will be the case for Blagojevich. Before Tuesday at least, the former governor was expected to give a relatively brief statement to the judge and, as his lawyer said, Blagojevich would "step up to the plate."

Zagel speaks: Judge James Zagel had said he wanted to have a break between arguments and when he would impose sentence. It's probable that the judge will take a break after Blagojevich is through and return with a sentence.

Patti Blagojevich cries at letter from daughter to judge

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Patti Blagojevich is crying as Goldstein reads a letter from Blagojevich to one of his daughters. Another attorney rubs Blagojevich's shoulder as he sighs.

Blagojevich's daughter says having him home every day has made these rough years bearable.

"He's been here to help me with my homework," she said in her letter. "I will not be able to handle my father not being around. I need him here for my high school graduation - I've wanted to go to northwestern since 6th grade... I'll need him when my heart gets broken." She'll need him when her dog gets ill.

"I need my father in my life," Goldstein said, finishing the letter.

"Take into account the side of Mr. Blagojevich that is a loving, caring, dedicated father and husband," Goldstein said. "He doesn't deserve mercy because he has a family but his family deserves mercy."

Blagojevich: Would a stiff sentence deter corruption?

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Judge Zagel challenged Carolyn Gurland on an opinion Judge Ruben Castillo wrote in 2006 sentencing Michael Spano and others looting Cicero's till:

"We need not resign ourselves to the fact that corruption exists in government," Castillo wrote. "Unlike some criminal justice issues, the crime of public corruption can be deterred by significant penalties."

Zagel told Gurland, "Your argument on this issue is in direct conflict with Judge Castillo's thesis. Most judges are not burdened with being elected to office. We do not say, 'We are going to fix this problem so it will never occur again. We are realists. We know there's no way... The policy of sentencing is to make it occur less."

Gurland responded, "We don't disagree with the premise that it's important to consider policies to deter [bad] conduct," Gurland said. "I think the defendants in the Spano case, the conduct was much more egregious. [Blagojevich's] sentence doesn't need to be anywhere near the sentence that is being advocated by the government."

Now they are playing tapes of Blagojevich in which he talked about possibly appointing Lisa Madigan to the Senate seat. Goldstein urged Judge Zagel to see the "unselfishness" of the proposal that never happened and that Zagel had earlier said he did not believe.

What Blagojevich did wan't so bad, his lawyer says

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What Blagojevich did was so much milder than what former Gov. George Ryan did, Blagojevich attorney Aaron Goldstein said.

Goldstein called Ryan "The second elephant sitting in the room."

Blagojevich deserves lass than the 6 1/2 years Ryan was sentenced to -- not more -- Goldstein said. Goldstein is running through other public figures recently convicted in public corruption cases and explaining why Blagojevich's crimes were less.


Blagojevich attorney Sheldon Sorosky is running through each of the crimes Blagojevich has been convicted of and saying that none of them merits 15 years in prison.

Sorosky said President Obama on a "perfectly proper mission" to go ask Blagojevich "Would Gov. Blagojevich appoint Valerie Jarrett to the senate -- she was a fit candidate -- it was a perfectly proper legal request."

"He asked for a job in return for that," Sorosky said. "That's a fact. That crime does not call for a 15-year jail sentence... I don't know that that's anywhere near "selling a senate seat for $1.5 million.'"

Abdon M. Pallasch & Natasha Korecki

Is Blagojevich really an "extraordinary" father?

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As Gurland talks about what a great father and husband Blagojevich is, Judge Zagel stops her and asks here what his "extraordinary" and therefore relevant to lowering prison-time eligibility about Blagojevich.

"He would be in the same position as any other father who 'was always there' for his children," Zagel says.

Gurland said she has four children of her own and some people are more "extraordinarily devoted" and Blagojevich is.

"I've witnessed it in connection with the preparation of this case - it is extraordinary."

She quotes relatives and family friends such as Misericordia's Sr. Rosemary Connelly -- whose home for 600 children and adults with disabilities Blagojevich helped -- talking about how his girls need him.

Zagel asks whether Blagojevich's problems in Springfield stemmed from his not being there. Gurland can't answer. The question causes the ex-governor to lean over and talk to two of his lawyers who are whispering or mouthing things back to him.

The Blagojeviches agreed to appearances on realty shows even though it made them "laughingstocks" because they were "paid handsomely" for it and it allowed them to keep their girls in a private school and to keep their home -- at the time.

-Abdon M. Pallasch & Natasha Korecki


Judge Zagel said he believes Blagojevich concocted the story that "his first choice" was to appoint Attorney General Lisa Madigan as senator as a peace offering to her father because it would have been legal and would sound good in court - as opposed to what Zagel believes to be true that Blagojevich intended to illegally profit from appointing Jesse Jackson, Jr., to the seat.

Blagojevich testified that he thought that by appointing the daughter of his main legislative rival, House Speaker Mike Madigan - even though Blagojevich did not like the Madigans - that Mike Madigan might stop blocking Blagojevich's legislative initiatives on behalf of Illinoisans.

Zagel said he did not buy Blagojevich's Madigan story when Blagojevich testified to it and he doesn't buy it now.

"In al honesty, I don't think the evidence supports the conclusion that the proposed choice was his first choice - it actually points in the other direction," Zagel said. "It is true that the defendant said so but his actions don't back up his words. The proposal that he later deemed to be his 'first choice' was treated as an outlier, maybe even a last choice."

Tapes of Blagojevich discussing the idea are "accompanied by extraordinarily unkind words, even a euphemism, for Attorney General Madigan and her father," Zagel noted.

"Defendant did testify that the night before he was arrested, his thoughts before bed were that, 'tomorrow' he would begin - emphasis on the word 'begin' -- his effort to appoint Lisa Madigan a United States Senator," Zagel said. "I think this is untrue. I thought it was untrue when he said it. I still think it's untrue [now]. I conclude that he seized on this particular [argument] before trial because it was one of the few moves available to him that may have been legal: appointing a qualified candidate for the senate -- which the attorney general was, in exchange for legislative votes for programs as opposed to putting money in his pocket."

"The defendant himself offers evidence that the Madigan deal was not his first choice," Zagel said. Zagel said Blagojevich said his first choice was appointing himself, though Zagel said he did not believe that either.

-Abdon M. Pallasch

Blagojevich re-enters the courtroom through the side door.
Patti's giving somebody with prosecutors the stink eye. Her sister is trying to calm her down, arm around her shoulder and shushing her.
Mrs. Blagojevich is using tissues.
Rod Blagojevich spots his wife looking sad.
"Y'alright?" he asks her. "What's the matter?"
He leans in pats her cheek and gives her an audible kiss.
His attorney starts relating Blagojevich's devotion to his wife and daughter. He stayed in Chicago instead of moving to D.C. when elected to congress, she said.
When he was elected governor, he likewise stayed in Chicago which "cost him approval points" with some voters.

Lauren Fitzpatrick

Did Blagojevich really come from 'Nothing?'

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U.S. District Judge James Zagel takes issue with Blagojevich's rags-to-riches story when his attorney, Carolyn Gurland recounts Blagojevich's background.
"He came from a Serbian immigrant family. His father spent four years in a Nazi Serbian war camp..."
"He worked on the Alaskan pipeline... He met Patti and began dating..." Gurland said.

Zagel stopped Gurland, and referenced an interview the ex-governor had earlier submitted to with the Probation Department in which he said he "came from nothing."

"Stop for a moment - I have a question. You say, 'he came from an immigrant family.' It was intact. [His father] taught his sons the value of hard work. He has produced two accomplished and successful children,. Why is this 'nothing?' I don't understand this. This is the backbone of America. This is the classic American story. This is not 'nothing,'" Zagel says.

Gurland assures Zagel she was not downplaying the hard work of Blagojevich's parents but merely pointing out that he had humble origins.

Zagel is the son of Polish immigrants.

Breaking for lunch.


Blagojevich judge makes coffee analogy

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Judge Zagel and Blagojevich's attorney Carolyn Gurland engaged in discussion of a "Coffee" analogy about whether Blagojevich ran his advisors or they ran him. This came up in the context of whether he was a "leader" eligible for more prison time.

Blagojevich's aides never quite got him the exact deal he was looking for in exchange for him appointing someone to Barack Obama's senate seat. Does that mean he's off the hook? Some aides testified they never relayed his threats to intended targets.

Judge Zagel asks Blagojevich's attorney, Gurland: "He is the one who seems to have pointed the direction to go. How does he not qualify as a 'leader'?"

Gurland replied, "Individuals are directing Mr. Blagojevich, sometimes scripting the language that he uses."

"I don't see why that makes them independent actors in any real sense of the word," Zagel said of Blagojevich's advisors. "When you send somebody out for coffee and they're very particular about the various kinds of coffee, examples of which I won't give you because I don't drink coffee. And somebody comes back and it's not precisely the kind of coffee you asked for - 'It's what we have in stock - it's what we could get.'"

"I agree, your honor," Gurland said. "Some portions of the facts of this case dealing with Mr. Blagojevich's advisors, it would be as if, he asked them to go out and get coffee and they didn't feel like going outside because it was too cold and so they said that Dunkin Doughnuts closed. So was Intelligentsia. But they were open and they didn't being back any coffee. I do think some of his advisors were running Mr. Blagojevich and some of them even told that to the government."

Zagel ruled against Gurland -- he found Blagojevich to be a leader.

-Abdon M. Pallasch

Blagojevich calls first witness

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In "mitigation," Blagojevich's attorney calls pediatrician Dr. Deanna Monroe to the stand to praise Blagojevich for pushing through "All Kids" insurance.

"Many people have lost their jobs, lost their private insurance," she said. "All Kids has been a way for them to still cover their children." All Kids patients have doubled from four percent to eight percent of her practice in the last year and a half, she said.

-Abdon M. Pallasch & Natasha Korecki

Judge Zagel is one-by-one throwing out Blagojevich's attorney's requests for less prison time.

While Zagel said a sentence of 30-years-to-life which Blagojevich could arguably be eligible for is "inappropriate" he is accepting the prosecution's arguments for "enhancements" of Blagojevich's prison time eligibility in the non-binding federal sentencing guidelines.

He does believe Blagojevich was a "leader" of the illegal scheme, he ruled.

"Testimony intimated from several of the witnesses that they would rather avoid talking to the governor as opposed to whisper into his ear and guide his actions," Zagel said. "Frankly, based on those tapes, I don't think he was an easy man to stop. He rattled on to a long time ... His tone of voice was demanding. He was not a supplicant.

So there's the $1.5 million he was looking for for appointing Jackson, the $25,000 he was looking for from the CEO of Children's Memorial Hospital; the $100,000 he was looking for in exchange for signing racetrack legislation -- all that adds up to more prison-time eligibility, Zagel ruled.

As Zagel said he was ready to rule on guideline issue. Patti Blagojevich's brother, his arm around his sister, pulled her closer.

When Zagel said he believed Blagojevich DID try to get $1.5 million from Jackson supporters -- saying Blagojevich was "pretty relentless" in pursuing that option, the ex-governor looks down toward one of his lawyers.

On a short break now.

Abdon M. Pallasch & Natasha Korecki

Blagojevich judge siding with prosecutors in some rulings

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Judge Zagel said he does not believe Blagojevich was really considering appointing Attorney General Lisa Madigan senator as a way to appease her father, House Speaker Michael Madigan. Nor does Judge Zagel believe Blagojevich was really considering appointing himself. Zagel believes Blagojevich was leaning toward appointing Jesse Jackson Jr. in order to get the $1.5 million in contributions fro Jackson's supporters.

So the amount of money sought should count toward making Blagojevich eligible for more time in prison, Zagel says.

-Natasha Korecki & Abdon M. Pallasch

Blagojevich was a leader, prosecutors say

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Just because Rod Blagojevich did not get what he wanted does not mean he was not a leader or was not looking for big money, Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar said.

"I think I heard the defense say that if he had actually been a leader, he would have decided upon a senator," Schar said. "He did - twice. He decided it would be Valerie Jarrett -- if he could get [appointed] Secretary of Health and Human Services. He did decide. He just didn't get what he wanted."

Natasha Korecki & Abdon M. Pallasch

Blagojevich: A million here, a million there

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While prosecutors say the amount of money Blagojevich sought in exchange for supporting legislation means he should get more time, defense attorney Carolyn Gurland say those big numbers were just being "thrown around ... in the absence of concrete action" and so should not trigger more prison time for him.

The ex-governor's two daughters are not in the courtroom.

Blagojevich sits with notebook before him. Moments before the judge walked, in he was digging into it, scratching out words, writing in new ones as he looked up and tossed a question to attorneys.

He's not smiling much, though did a little of his usual waving and nodding to various people around the courtroom.

As Gurland is up in front of judge arguing the law, the former governor rarely looks up. He's writing almost non-stop.

Gurland is now disputing the government's contention that Blagojevich deserves more prison time because he was a "leader/organizer" of the scheme.

Blagojevich hearing has begun

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And discussion begins about what the federal sentencing guidelines -- which are non-binding on the judge -- really mean. Defense arguing that prosecution's reading of the guidelines "while honest, is not accurate."

While waiting for Judge Zagel to arrive, Blagojevich passed his hand over his hair as Patti proofread something in a binder at defense table.

-Natasha Korecki & Abdon M. Pallasch

Blagojevich: Waiting for the sentencing hearing to start

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The Blagojeviches were brought in through a back entrance to avoid the press gantlet.

In courtroom, Rod just walked up to Patti, who is seated in front row. He touched her hand. "I love you."

Jurors are walking in.

Jim Matsumoto, foreman from the first trial, is in the audience.

-Natasha Korecki & Abdon M. Pallasch

Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich left his Ravenswood Manor home at 8:30 a.m. for his sentencing hearing in federal court this morning.

The hearing starts at 10 a.m.

Blagojevich would answer only one question from reporters.

Asked what he thought about Cubs legend Ron Santo finally being elected to
the Baseball Hall of Fame, he called that "long overdue."


Rod Blagojevich needs to apologize at his sentencing hearing today if he has any hope of getting leniency while prosecutors ask for up to 20 years in prison.

Here's how another former governor -- George Ryan -- handled apologizing while he still vigorously fought for years to overturn his conviction.

For Ryan's remarks: click here

Chicago Sun-Times reporters will be inside and outside the courtroom today detailing Rod Blagojevich's sentencing hearing.

Follow our blog for up-to-date happenings and go to www.suntimes.com for updates throughout the day.

U.S. District Judge James Zagel has set aside Tuesday and Wednesday for the former governor's sentencing but he said he would not impose sentence Tuesday -- even if lawyers have wrapped up.

#Blagojevich's sentencing judge -- how he operates

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blagosketch.jpeg

His background is in law enforcement, but he's carved out a reputation as a judge who plays it right down the middle, favoring neither the defense nor the prosecution.

That's the man who will write the final act to the Rod Blagojevich drama.

U.S. District Judge James Zagel, a onetime prosecutor and head of the Illinois State Police, is a jurist who has shown he can be persuaded, to a point, by compassion and a criminal's good works, lawyers who have had clients before him say.

Yet they say Zagel sticks to the law and is not easily influenced by the media or outside factors.

Defense lawyer Larry Beaumont said that when Beaumont was a federal prosecutor Zagel rejected his recommendations in some rulings.

"I've never seen him lean, ever. And I've had many cases on both sides [as a prosecutor and defense lawyer]. He analyzes the law and gives the sentence based on specific factors," Beaumont said. In Blagojevich: "I don't think either side will have any greater impact than the other."

Read more about James Zagel here: Blagojevich's judge

Even though prosecutors and defense lawyers said Friday they can make their arguments in just one day and won't need to a second day next week for convicted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's sentencing hearing, the judge in the case said he won't impose a sentence on Tuesday and still plans to do that on Wednesday.

"I will not pass sentence on Tuesday, will not," Zagel said at a hearing Friday.

Zagel had set aside Tuesday and Wednesday for Blagojevich's sentencing hearing.

He told Blagojevich's lawyers they won't need to "cram everything in" on Tuesday.

Even after the lawyers wrap up their arguments regarding sentencing, the judge said he expects to have questions for them.

Zagel also denied Blagojevich's last-ditch request to vacate his verdict based for reasons including that the former governor's lawyers weren't allowed to tell jurors that Blagojevich didn't know that what he was doing was illegal. Zagel said he thought that argument was "inconsequential" since Blagojevich said more than once in his testimony that he thought what he was doing was legal.

Zagel read a lengthy statement regarding Blagojevich's case, including the ex-governor's repeated choice to publicize his case in the news media.

Zagel said he still believes that the ex-governor's best shot at acquittal was by taking the witness stand.

Prosecutors are asking Zagel to give Blagojevich 15 to 20 years in prison.

Blagojevich's lawyers are seeking probation for him.


A somewhat testy U.S. District Judge James Zagel in court this afternoon suggested that reporters who had contact with a juror in the trial of William Cellini would be asked to turn over their notes.

Zagel, who is set to sentence ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Tuesday, made the suggestion during an afternoon hearing in which a lawyer from the Chicago Tribune appeared to intervene, asking that Zagel open up an in-chambers conference tomorrow regarding the Cellini case to the public.

Zagel opened up tomorrow's hearing by holding it today.

"This is the morning conference," he told lawyers before him.

Cellini's attorneys have asked that his guilty verdict be thrown out because a juror hadn't disclosed she had a felony record. Zagel has said that an evidentiary hearing may be warranted.

Zagel said he set a conference for tomorrow in his chambers, he said, because he simply wanted one lawyer from each side to give him possible days they would be free in December -- a busy month -- if he were to schedule a hearing. He did though, ask that lawyers submit to him, under seal, "proposed questions," to be asked at a hearing.

Zagel snapped at lawyers who started asking questions about the details of the type of hearing he had in mind.

"I'm not answering that question. I just want dates and I want certain information," Zagel said.

Zagel then told the Tribune lawyer James Klenk he suspected the media wouldn't oppose placing the questions under seal, citing "general journalistic practice" not to reveal questions to a source before an interview. "So you can ponder if that's an issue you want to raise," Zagel told the lawyer, with a slight smile.

Zagel then said he suspected that if the juror in question had spoken to reporters, subpoenas could be forthcoming.

"I want to avoid a dispute over reporters' notes," Zagel said. He said it would be "helpful to the court" to know if the juror had spoken publicly about one issue, presumably her criminal background. "You can start preparing your briefs," Zagel told Klenk, who did not respond.

The Sun-Times had interviewed the juror the day of the verdict. The juror though refused a follow-up interview on the question of whether she had a criminal background.


A somewhat testy U.S. District Judge James Zagel in court this afternoon suggested that reporters who had contact with a juror in the trial of William Cellini would be asked to turn over their notes.

Zagel, who is set to sentence ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Tuesday, made the suggestion during an afternoon hearing in which a lawyer from the Chicago Tribune appeared to intervene, asking that Zagel open up an in-chambers conference tomorrow regarding the Cellini case to the public.

Zagel opened up tomorrow's hearing by holding it today.

"This is the morning conference," he told lawyers before him.

Cellini's attorneys have asked that his guilty verdict be thrown out because a juror hadn't disclosed she had a felony record. Zagel has said that an evidentiary hearing may be warranted.

Zagel said he set a conference for tomorrow in his chambers, he said, because he simply wanted one lawyer from each side to give him possible days they would be free in December -- a busy month -- if he were to schedule a hearing. He did though, ask that lawyers submit to him, under seal, "proposed questions," to be asked at a hearing.

Zagel snapped at lawyers who started asking questions about the details of the type of hearing he had in mind.

"I'm not answering that question. I just want dates and I want certain information," Zagel said.

Zagel then told the Tribune lawyer James Klenk he suspected the media wouldn't oppose placing the questions under seal, citing "general journalistic practice" not to reveal questions to a source before an interview. "So you can ponder if that's an issue you want to raise," Zagel told the lawyer, with a slight smile.

Zagel then said he suspected that if the juror in question had spoken to reporters, subpoenas could be forthcoming.

"I want to avoid a dispute over reporters' notes," Zagel said. He said it would be "helpful to the court" to know if the juror had spoken publicly about one issue, presumably her criminal background. "You can start preparing your briefs," Zagel told Klenk, who did not respond.

The Sun-Times had interviewed the juror the day of the verdict. The juror though refused a follow-up interview on the question of whether she had a criminal background.

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