Rod Blagojevich, the defiant former boxer Illinois once elected to the governor’s office, broke his three-year silence from prison Tuesday with a simple combative declaration: “I must fight on.”
Meanwhile, his lawyers filed a long-shot bid for a hearing before the full U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, contending few politicians could survive the law as applied to Blagojevich and, therefore, “his convictions must be overturned.”
Combined, it appears the 58-year-old Blagojevich has made a brief return to campaign mode after keeping out of the spotlight since his 2012 surrender to a federal prison in Colorado. He’s already spent more than three years there serving a 14-year prison sentence handed down by U.S. District Judge James Zagel.
“There is nothing I desire more than to return home to my wife and two young daughters,” Blagojevich said in a written statement released by his publicist. “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.”
Legal experts say Blagojevich’s odds of success are slim. Even in the rare event that all nine active judges would hear his case, it’s even less likely that they’ll disagree with the three-judge panel that tossed out five of Blagojevich’s 18 criminal convictions two weeks ago.
While that ruling July 21 seemed on the surface to signal good news for the imprisoned politician, the panel also said, “it is not possible to call 168 months unlawfully high for Blagojevich’s crimes.” So it’s unclear if Zagel would knock any time off Blagojevich’s sentence in the end.
Blagojevich’s request Tuesday seems to put plans for a new sentencing hearing on hold.
It’s not clear how soon the court will respond, despite its presumptive times for action.
Full statement from Rod Blagojevich It has been almost three and a half years since I left home and reported to prison. These have been hard years for my family — for our children and for my wife, Patti, and me. Yet we continue to have faith in the truth; in the righteousness of our cause; in the rule of law and in America; in each other; and, most of all, in God. There is nothing I desire more than to return home to my wife and two young daughters. 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. I urge the media and the public to please read the court filing carefully. Fundraising is a part of the job of every politician. The jury instructions used to convict me in my case are not the law. It makes the standard so low that any politician can be jailed at the whim of an ambitious prosecutor. That standard is wrong and needs to be corrected.
Known as a petition for an “en banc” rehearing, such requests are typically reserved for conflicts with the U.S. Supreme Court or questions of “exceptional importance.”
The former governor urged “the media and the public to please read the court filings carefully.” It recounts his side of the story regarding alleged 2008 negotiations over the U.S. Senate seat about to be vacated by President-elect Barack Obama, as well as accusations that he tried to extort a horse-racing executive and the president of Children’s Memorial Hospital.
It also responds to the three-judge panel’s comment that the evidence against Blagojevich was “overwhelming.” Blagojevich’s lawyers counter that the jury in his first trial “failed to reach a verdict on any of the political corruption counts” and rather convicted him simply of lying to the FBI.
But largely, Blagojevich’s lawyers contend prosecutors took advantage of flawed jury instructions. By letting those instructions stand, the former governor’s lawyers said the three-judge panel’s ruling conflicted with a previous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court involving a state lawmaker in West Virginia.
Blagojevich appellate attorney Leonard Goodman also said a “question of exceptional importance” exists, because the three-judge panel lowered the standard of proof to put politicians in jail.
“Few politicians, who must raise campaign funds as part of their job, could survive the legal requirements imposed on Blagojevich,” Goodman wrote.
A majority of active appeals court judges must agree to hear Blagojevich’s case if it’s to be successful. But a vote will only happen if an active judge, or a member of the original three-judge panel, requests one.
Jeffrey Cramer, a former federal prosecutor who now heads the Chicago office of Kroll Inc., said he’d be “shocked” if the full appellate court ultimately disagreed with the ruling last month by Judges Frank Easterbrook, Ilana Rovner and Michael Kanne.
All are respected judges, Cramer said. And he said Easterbrook, who wrote the ruling, is a “leading voice” on the court.