Judge Calls Blagojevich’s Motion For New Trial ‘Hare-Brained’
UPDATED 12/19/11 – 4:17 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — A federal judge angrily scolded a bid by attorneys for former Gov. Rod Blagojevich to get a new trial, calling their motion alleging potential misconduct by the jury forewoman “hare-brained.”
And the forewoman, Connie Wilson, denied that she improperly showed students at an Aurora high school a copy of her completed jury questionnaire, saying she only showed them a blank juror qualification questionnaire that she obtained from the court clerk’s office.
In a filing last week, defense attorneys sought an evidentiary hearing to determine if Wilson violated the judge’s order that jury questionnaires be kept confidential. They said if Wilson did violate any rules, Blagojevich should get a new trial. He was been convicted of multiple corruption charges, including allegations he tried to sell an appointment to President Barack Obama’s old U.S. Senate seat.
But U.S. District Judge James Zagel said, “I intend to deny this motion, which I regard as hare-brained,” adding he never told jurors that their questionnaires were to be kept secret.
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“I never instructed the jury that the questionnaires … had to be kept confidential,” Zagel said in court Monday. “This motion was prepared without any adequate thought.”
In an interview with CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole on Monday, Wilson said she never would have showed anyone her completed jury questionnaire. She didn’t even have access to it, as all completed questionnaires were handed over to the court clerk’s office and placed under seal.
“Everybody who knows me knows that this would be nothing I would ever do,” Wilson said. “I can’t get my forms. Those are sealed in court.”
Wilson explained that she got a copy of a blank jury questionnaire from the court clerk’s office to help explain the jury process to students.
Wilson said her husband was present in court Monday, but she herself was not. She said she thought the whole issue was silly.
Zagel suggested he could have held defense attorney Lauren Kaeseberg – who wrote the motion – in contempt of court and suggested she seek a lawyer for herself and write an explanation to him showing why she thought the motion was valid.
The judge also suggested the defense team should write a letter of apology to Wilson.
But Kaesberg stood by the motion afterward, saying, “We believe in the motion and still believe we were entitled to the (evidentiary) hearing.”
The defense’s motion cited recent media reports that Wilson recently spoke with students at Metea Valley High School in Aurora and showed them courtroom sketches of Blagojevich and copies of her jury summons and questionnaires.
“I know we filed this motion in good faith,” Kaeseberg added. “We were just trying to find out if she had (her jury completed jury questionnaire) and how she got it.”
Defense attorneys noted that they have not been allowed to contact jurors themselves, so they have no way of knowing what Wilson showed the students or how she got the questionnaire without a hearing before the judge.
“This is the only remedy we had,” defense attorney Aaron Goldstein said. “We in no way intended to hurt Ms. Wilson in any way.”
Two newspaper reports last week incorrectly reported that Wilson showed the high school students a copy of her jury questionnaire. But Goldstein said because defense attorneys were not allowed to speak to jurors, the only way they had of knowing if Wilson showed the students her own questionnaire or a blank one was by holding a hearing so they could question her.
“We’re not saying anything wrong was done or not. We have enough information, based on this article, to determine that there should be a hearing,” Goldstein said.
“I have probably 300 witnesses over at the school,” Wilson said. “They’ll say, ‘Yeah, all we saw was a blank form.’”
Defense attorneys also said that two other jurors from the trial were dismissed for violating court rules and, if Wilson had violated any rules, Blagojevich should get a new trial.
Kaeseberg and the rest of Blagojevich’s defense team said they have not decided whether or not they would send an apology to Wilson as the judge suggested, saying they wanted to sit down and discuss the matter with each other first.
But Wilson said Blagojevich’s lawyers don’t need to apologize to her.
“I think they’re just doing their jobs as lawyers,” Wilson said. “If I were on the other side, I’d want my lawyers doing their best for me, too.”
Although Wilson said she won’t let this experience stop her from talking to others about her experience as a juror, she said, “I think that’s why jurors don’t want to get involved – people don’t want to be on a jury – because this type of thing can happen,” Wilson said.
Zagel even said he could have held Kaeseberg in contempt of court, but said he would not do so because she is a relatively new lawyer.
He also said the motion “smacks a little of a retaliatory motive against a juror who returned a verdict that you and your client don’t like and it’s improper.”
Zagel said even if Wilson did show the students her filled-out questionnaire, it wouldn’t have mattered, because it only would have revealed private biographical information about Wilson, not sensitive information about the trial.
“These were not notes about the case, this was her information,” Zagel said. “How you could have concluded that a juror is lawfully restricted from saying these things is just beyond my imagination.”
Blagojevich was sentenced earlier this month to 14 years in prison for his convictions on 18 corruption charges. He is scheduled to report to prison on March 15.
CBS 2 Web Producer Todd Feurer. CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole contributed to this report.