Judge Won’t Delay Start Of Blagojevich Retrial
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CHICAGO (CBS) – A federal judge on Thursday denied a request from former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s lawyers to push back his retrial on corruption charges by a few weeks.
Defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky said the defense team needed a few extra weeks to prepare because they have spent time lately dealing with a number of different motions related to the case, rather than general trial preparation.
But U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel said the two sides have had plenty of time to prepare and that the retrial should be “less complex” than the first trial, as prosecutors have dropped a number of charges, which will make the retrial “shorter (and) more streamlined.”
Blagojevich’s second trial on federal corruption charges is scheduled to begin on Wednesday.
Lawyers will likely begin questioning potential jurors on Thursday, according to Zagel. Opening statements could come as soon as the middle of the following week.
After Thursday’s hearing, Sorosky declined to say whether Blagojevich would testify in his own defense at the retrial or whether he’d promise jurors they’d hear from the former governor.
“I don’t think any good lawyer can make that decision until the government rests,” Sorosky said.
In opening statements of the first trial, Blagojevich’s lawyer, Sam Adam Jr., promised the jury that Blagojevich would take the witness stand. But Blagojevich did not testify and his attorneys did not call a single witness.
During Thursday’s hearing, Sorosky also complained about evidence that prosecutors presented at the first trial showing that, while he was governor, Blagojevich spent more than $400,000 on suits and other expensive clothing. Defense attorneys want to ask the witness whether that is illegal, but Zagel said that prosecutors never suggested otherwise.
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Assistant U.S. Atty. Reid Schar said the testimony about Blagojevich’s spending was offered as “motive evidence” regarding his alleged schemes to get campaign cash from various official actions. Schar said the evidence would show Blagojevich was “spending his money recklessly” and needed cash.
Sorosky said that when prosecutors present testimony on Blagojevich’s spending, it feels like “the government throws a punch and we can’t punch back” if defense lawyers can’t ask a witness whether that spending is illegal.
Zagel suggested he could require prosecutors to more explicitly state why they are presenting evidence about Blagojevich’s spending.
Also Thursday, the judge denied a new request from defense attorneys to have access to a report on the FBI’s interview with President Barack Obama, after Blagojevich was arrested in December 2008.
FBI agents and prosecutors questioned Obama, along with Rahm Emanuel and Valerie Jarrett, during their transition into the White House. Investigators wanted to ask them about their contact with Blagojevich about his power to appoint Obama’s replacement in the U.S. Senate.
Blagojevich is accused of trying to sell or trade an appointment to Obama’s vacant Senate seat.
Defense attorneys also asked for a copy of the FBI report before the first trial and to subpoena Obama about the interview. But Zagel denied those requests last year.
Blagojevich’s lawyers have said the report would help them cross-examine labor union boss Tom Balanoff, who testified at the first trial that he got a call from Obama on the night before the 2008 election. Balanoff said he believed the call was a signal to approach Blagojevich about possibly appointing Jarrett to the Senate seat.
The defense team says Balanoff’s testimony contradicts a report from the Obama administration issued in December 2008 which states that Obama didn’t direct anyone to speak on his behalf regarding preferences for the Senate seat.
Zagel again denied the defense request for the FBI report on the Obama interview.
The judge also scheduled a hearing for Monday to deal with motions by prosecutors seeking to block defense attorneys from discussing actions Blagojevich took after he learned he was the subject of FBI wiretaps a few days before he was arrested.
Zagel said that prosecutors believe that once Blagojevich knew he was being recorded, he shouldn’t get credit for doing the right thing.
In their motion, prosecutors specifically pointed to Blagojevich’s alleged scheme to shake down Children’s Memorial Hospital executives for campaign cash in exchange for additional state funding and his alleged scheme to shake down a racetrack owner for a donation in exchange for legislation favorable to the industry.
At the first trial, defense attorneys made a point of showing that Blagojevich never got any campaign contributions from either the hospital or the racetrack owner, yet still gave both of them what they wanted. But prosecutors contend that Blagojevich only did so after he had been arrested and charged with the shakedown attempt, so he shouldn’t get credit for doing the right thing later.
Also Thursday, Zagel told attorneys for both sides to file edited versions of some pretrial motions that had been filed under seal during the past two months. The Chicago Tribune filed a motion earlier this week objecting to the sealing of those documents in secret.
Zagel said he agreed that the filings should have been made publicly, but allowed both sides to “redact” portions of the filings that should stay secret.