The United States Supreme Court on Monday decided not to hear an appeal by disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
The decision was noted in a list of orders posted Monday on the court’s website.
Blagojevich, 59, reported to a federal prison in Colorado four years ago to begin serving a 14-year sentence. He was convicted of 18 counts over two trials. Among other things, he was accused of attempting to trade his power to appoint someone to a U.S. Senate seat — the one recently vacated by President Barack Obama — in exchange for personal benefits. A three-judge appellate panel tossed five of his 18 criminal convictions last year and ordered him to be re-sentenced. However, that panel also pointed out “it is not possible to call 168 months unlawfully high for Blagojevich’s crimes.”
That means U.S. District Judge James Zagel may not be moved to lighten the former governor’s sentence, even after the three-judge panel tossed nearly a third of the counts against Blagojevich.
Zagel has not scheduled a hearing in the eight months since the three-judge panel called for the re-sentencing. That could change now that the Supreme Court has shot down Blagojevich’s appeal — and set the stage for a return of the Blagojevich circus to Zagel’s courtroom.
Blagojevich is not set to be released until May 2024, records show.
His wife, Patti Blagojevich, issued a statement.
“While we are incredibly disappointed that the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case now, it is not entirely unexpected because of the government’s position that the case was not over yet. We are hopeful that after the governor is resentenced, as a result of a federal appeals court tossing out five of the counts against him, that the highest court may be moved to take the case then,” she was quoted as saying.
“This was, of course, not the outcome that Rod, our daughters Amy and Annie, had hoped and prayed for. But we continue to have faith in the system and an unshakable love for Rod. We long for the day that he will be back home with us.”
Blagojevich attorney Leonard Goodman said that Blagojevich, who speaks with his wife every day, had heard the news.
“He’s been a model prisoner. He’s taught classes. Continued to be a father. He talks to his family every day. Has helped other inmates.”
Goodman said he’ll have the opportunity to file another appeal with the Supreme Court after the resentencing hearing. Goodman would not say how much time he hopes to have shaved off Blagojevich’s sentence. “My goal is to reunite him with his family . . . for him to come home,” he said.
Patti Blagojevich had occasionally put case updates on Facebook; on March 8, the day attorneys filed a response with the Supreme Court, she wrote: “I think our attorneys did an outstanding job of clarifying the issues and making a case for the granting of our petition.”
The court, apparently, did not agree.
“From a statistical point of view, we knew the numbers were somewhat against us,” Sheldon Sorosky, another Blagojevich attorney, said of the denial. “We thought we had some compelling arguments, but I guess the court disagrees with us.”
The last time Sorosky spoke with Blagojevich was about a month ago. “He was in very good spirits,” he said.
Despite Monday’s setback, Sorosky said he will continue battling on behalf of his client.
“We’re disappointed, but we persevere on,” Sorosky said, referring to the upcoming resentencing.
Jeffrey Cramer, a former federal prosecutor, said Blagojevich’s Supreme Court petition was the former governor’s last shot at legal redemption.
Cramer, who now heads the Chicago office of Kroll Inc., said Blagojevich will likely appear at a new hearing before Zagel — though federal authorities might not force him to attend if he wants to avoid the spectacle that such a hearing is likely to produce.
“I think you can expect him there,” Cramer said.
In his pitch to the Supreme Court, Goodman had argued there is confusion among lower courts when it comes to public corruption prosecutions and the solicitation of campaign contributions. He urged the Supreme Court to intervene, calling the Blagojevich case an “ideal vehicle” and the three-judge panel’s ruling last summer a disappointment.
“We believe the decision is flawed and puts every public official, who must raise campaign funds to stay in office and to be effective, at the mercy of an ambitious or politically motivated federal prosecutor,” Goodman said last year. “But we remain hopeful that we will prevail in the end because the decision is in conflict with established legal precedent which has existed for more than 20 years.”
A group of politicians and labor leaders also urged the court to take the case. The group, which took “no position on Mr. Blagojevich’s innocence or guilt,” included U.S. Reps. Jan Schakowsky, Danny Davis, Mike Quigley and Bobby Rush, as well as former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones and Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis.
Government lawyers argued Blagojevich should be resentenced before the Supreme Court hears his case. But Goodman insisted the Supreme Court had “unquestioned” power to review it.
Over the summer, Blagojevich’s publicists released his first public statement since he surrendered in 2012 to begin serving a 14-year sentence at a federal prison in Colorado.
“There is nothing I desire more than to return home to my wife and two young daughters,” Blagojevich said. “I cherish them more than anything in the world. I wish this was over. But I must fight on. What is at stake is nothing less than the rule of law.”