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