UPDATED 08/01/11 5:45 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — A federal judge has set a tentative sentencing date of Oct. 6 for ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich, following his conviction on 17 corruption counts at this summer’s retrial and one count of lying to the FBI at his first trial last year.
U.S. District Judge James Zagel said Blagojevich’s sentencing hearing could last anywhere from two hours to two days, depending on the amount of evidence that the defense team presents.
The judge set a Sept. 28 hearing for prosecutors and defense attorneys to tell him how they plan to proceed at sentencing, so he’ll know how much time to set aside for the sentencing.
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Blagojevich’s attorneys said they plan to call witnesses to testify about Blagojevich’s “meritorious conduct” as governor and his personal character.
Blagojevich himself was not at Monday’s hearing, but lead defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky said the former governor will “absolutely” testify on his own behalf at his sentencing.
“He will say what he feels is in his heart and mind,” Sorosky said. “He was a good, honest governor who tried to help the people of the state of Illinois and he cared about the ordinary guy.”
Blagojevich was convicted last year of a single count of lying to the FBI, but jurors deadlocked on all other counts against him at the first trial.
At his retrial, which ended in June, the jury convicted him of 17 counts of fraud, extortion and bribery – including allegations he tried to sell or trade an appointment to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama in 2008.
Blagojevich faces a maximum of 305 years behind bars if he were to receive consecutive sentences for each individual count, but legal experts have said it is likely he’ll be sentenced to somewhere between 6 and 15 years.
Meantime, Zagel is weighing a 158-page motion for a new trial that defense attorneys filed last week, arguing that Blagojevich didn’t get a fair trial because of Zagel’s repeated rulings against him, including not allowing Blagojevich to testify that he thought his actions were legal.
Zagel said that he has only done a quick reading of the motion, but it appears that the motion doesn’t raise any new issues that weren’t also raised in earlier motions seeking a mistrial, so he does not believe he’ll need to hold a separate hearing on the latest motion before he rules.
In the motion, defense attorneys cited a litany of rulings that they claim showed the judge was biased and helped prosecutors prevent the defense from presenting an effective case. They noted that Zagel ruled against the defense and in favor of the prosecution at virtually every turn.
“The convictions were the result of a fundamentally unfair trial, at which the defense was handicapped beyond repair by the Court’s rulings in favor of the government,” Blagojevich’s lawyers wrote. “From start to finish, the retrial in this case was stacked in favor of the government and each ruling contributed to the untenable convictions.”
For example, defense attorneys wrote that a prosecutor shouldn’t have been allowed to call Blagojevich “a convicted liar” at the beginning of the government’s cross-examination when Blagojevich took the stand.
In one of the most memorable moments of the trial, lead prosecutor Reid Schar opened his cross-examination of Blagojevich by asking “Mr. Blagojevich, you are a convicted liar, correct?”
The defense’s motion said that Zagel should never have allowed the question, which was a reference to Blagojevich’s conviction of lying to the FBI at his first trial.
The motion claimed the sole intent of that question was “to prejudice the jury and improperly infer that Blagojevich must be lying about all of his substantive testimony.”
As part of its motion, the defense also presented an affidavit from Blagojevich, in which he said he only took the stand at his retrial because he believed he would be allowed to testify that he believed his actions were legal and that none of his advisers told him differently.
“Blagojevich decided to testify based on the Court‘s rulings that he would be permitted to testify to his good faith and his honest belief that what he was doing was legal,” his attorneys wrote in their motion. “Despite the fact that the Court ruled that Blagojevich could testify in this way prior to his testimony, mid-way through his direct examination, the Court pulled the rug out from under Blagojevich and prohibited him from fully testifying to his own good faith.”
Blagojevich’s attorneys claim that Zagel’s repeated rulings against Blagojevich placed “a thumb on the scale of justice” and led to his conviction on 17 of 20 charges at the second trial.
“This is not a case of overwhelming evidence of guilt. It is a case of overwhelming bias against the defense in which the playing field was so unlevel that Blagojevich never stood a chance at a fair trial,” the defense wrote.
Prosecutors have until Aug. 19 to respond to the defense’s motion.
–CBS 2 Web Producer Todd Feurer