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Judge To Limit Evidence On Blagojevich’s Lavish Spending

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Rod Blagojevich

Rod Blagojevich (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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CHICAGO (CBS) – A federal judge said Tuesday that he would limit the amount of evidence that prosecutors can present about former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s spending on designer suits and other clothes when testimony begins at his retrial.

At Blagojevich’s first trial on federal corruption charges, prosecutors presented evidence that showed the former governor spent more than $400,000 on designer suits and other expensive clothing — more than he spent on any other expense while he was governor.

Defense attorneys argued that such evidence was irrelevant to Blagojevich’s alleged schemes to trade official actions for campaign contributions and would prejudice the jury. But prosecutors argued Blagojevich’s spending is evidence of his motive for allegedly squeezing potential donors for illicit campaign cash.

U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel agreed that the way prosecutors presented that evidence was “over the top” and said “the government should be dropping some of the bangles and beads from its case.”

At the first trial, an IRS agent reviewed an item-by-item list of dozens of designer suits, ties and other garments that Blagojevich bought when he was governor. Prosecutors argued it showed he was spending beyond his means and needed cash.

The judge did not specifically block prosecutors from presenting that evidence at the retrial, but did indicate he would limit how much time they can spend discussing it.

Zagel also hinted that defense attorneys might want to reconsider keeping Blagojevich off the witness stand as they did at the first trial.

Defense attorneys have been seeking to play a number of wiretap recordings that they claim would show the governor did nothing illegal and was simply engaged in run-of-the mill political horse-trading.

But the judge said that, in order to present those tapes, the defense would also need to call witnesses who were a part of those recorded conversations and could explain the context of the discussions.

Defense attorneys noted that most of the people Blagojevich is heard talking to on those tapes are prosecution witnesses who are cooperating under plea agreements, but Zagel noted that Blagojevich himself is also on the tapes and could testify to the context of those tapes.

After court Tuesday, defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky declined to say if he would call Blagojevich to the stand during the trial.

“It’s way too early to make that decision,” he said.

Sorosky also declined to discuss what other possible witnesses he might call at the retrial.

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