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Blagojevich jury selection starts today

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Six years after the investigation began, 18 months after his arrest, and 17 months after he launched a national media blitz that included everything from "The View" to Donald Trump's "Celebrity Apprentice," the day is finally upon us.

Rod Blagojevich, the former governor of our state -- and his brother -- arrive today in federal court to face extensive corruption charges.

Jury selection is set to begin this morning as Blagojevich becomes the second Illinois governor in four years to face trial on misconduct allegations. Former Gov. George Ryan is still serving a 6.5 year sentence in federal prison.

Blagojevich and his brother, Robert, both are expected to attend court today with their wives.

In a WLS-AM radio appearance Wednesday morning, Rod Blagojevich said both he and his wife, Patti, who is named in federal documents but not charged, look forward to taking the witness stand on his behalf.

"I can't wait to get on there, swear on the holy Bible to tell the whole truth and to begin to give clarification and explanations and confront my accusers and confront those who are lying," Blagojevich said. "Both of us are eager to get up there and tell the truth and testify."

Impeached and ousted from his position as the state's chief executive in 2009, Rod Blagojevich, 53, is named in 24 counts, including accusations that he tried auctioning off President Obama's old U.S. Senate seat for personal benefits, that one of his fund-raisers paid his wife as a ghost payroller and that he lied to the FBI, among other charges.

It was an accusation that Blagojevich tried extorting a children's hospital executive in exchange for signing legislation that caught the attention of one national writer.

"After I heard that, I said: 'I'm not passing this up,' " said legendary New York columnist Jimmy Breslin, who is writing a book about the former governor and plans to be around for at least parts of the trial.

Robert Blagojevich, 54, who lives in Nashville, Tenn., faces five counts, including attempted extortion and bribery conspiracy. His wife, Julie, also is poised to take the stand in his defense.

National interest ratcheted up again just Wednesday, when the Sun-Times first reported that White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and senior advisor Valerie Jarrett were subpoenaed by the defense to testify. With a storyline that reaches into the White House, the trial, expected to stretch over four months, will be closely watched by some of the top political figures in the country.

Hundreds of spectators are likely to vie for a seat in U.S. District Judge James Zagel's courtroom today -- but most won't be so lucky.

Located on the 25th floor of the Dirksen Federal Building, the courtroom seats only 64 -- and more than a third of those are blocked off for select members of the media.

Still, court officials are receiving complaints from bloggers and others in the media who lack a reserved seat, said U.S. District Clerk of Court Michael Dobbins.

Spillover will be directed to a second courtroom down the hall, where audio from the proceedings -- but no video -- will be piped in.

Today, jury selection begins as attorneys whittle down a group of 34 potential jurors who hail from as far north as Lake County, as far west as La Salle County and as far south as Will County. Questioning is expected to last three or four days with a group of 34 called up each day from an overall pool of about 100 people.

Defense lawyers are allowed 13 peremptory challenges, meaning they can toss out 13 jurors for any reason; the prosecution can toss out nine. But attorneys can eliminate as many as they want "for cause" -- that is, if they have reason to believe someone is biased. The end result will be 12 jurors and probably six alternates.

Those six are poised to step in if any of the 12 is dismissed during the trial -- an unlikely event, but one that occurred during Ryan's trial.

Jurors are paid $40 a day plus transportation costs for the length of the trial -- probably about four months, court officials said.

As for the former first family, Blagojevich's two daughters aren't expected in the courtroom, Rod Blagojevich's publicity agent Glenn Selig said.

"Patti does not anticipate that they will be going to court," said Selig, who described Patti Blagojevich and Rod as relieved that the trial is about to start. "[Patti] won't be there every day; since she's testifying she can't be there."

And as far as Rod Blagojevich's tendency to talk on air, don't expect to see his mug on TV anytime soon.

"There are no plans for any interviews right now," Selig said. "He's focusing on the trial right now. That's our plan at this point."

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on June 3, 2010 9:04 AM.

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