Sneed exclusive: Blagojevich judge, James Zagel, is semi-retired

SHARE Sneed exclusive: Blagojevich judge, James Zagel, is semi-retired

Federal Judge James Zagel has moved to senior status. | AP file photo

Follow @sneedlingsSneed has learned powerful federal Judge James B. Zagel, who presided over the Blagojevich trial and handed down a controversial 14-year sentence for political corruption, quietly moved to senior status last October and is taking on fewer cases.

It’s unclear how many cases Zagel will take on going forward.

The big question?

Is he heading to full retirement?

Officials at the federal building couldn’t be reached Friday afternoon, but Julie Hodek, a spokeswoman for the U.S. District Court, verified Zagel took senior status on Oct. 21, 2016. “I am not aware of judges’ specific caseloads,” she said.

In fact, Zagel, 76, moved to senior status— a form of semi-retirement for federal judges who have reached the age of 65 and served in federal courts for 15 years — three months after re-sentencing former Gov. Rod Blagojevich to his original 14-year term.


Follow @sneedlingsThat’s when Blagojevich’s daughters wept openly in the front row of a federal courtroom last August when Zagel reinstated a sentence that could keep their father locked up until 2024.

Thursday, Blagojevich’s lawyers renewed their appeal for sentence reduction by filing legal briefs aimed at ending his imprisonment at a minimum-security facility in Denver, Colorado, before they head back to court April 18.

They argued that because a federal appellate court back in July 2015 dismissed five criminal counts against their client,his subsequent re-sentencing last year should have resulted in less prison time.

Stay tuned.

The Jackson story . . .

Isn’t this a possible barn burner?

Sneed hears former Ald. Sandi Jackson, who is involved in a contentious divorce with her husband, former U.S. Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., is planning to write a book.

But, Sneed is told, she has confided to others she is looking for a writer and has been working on the book since she left her imprisonment for tax evasion in West Virginia.

The book would ostensibly include her one-year stint in the minimum-security facility — and how that impacted her life — the year after her husband was released from his 23-month stint in federal prison for political corruption.

And, of course, her life as a member of the legendary family — which is headed by its patriarch, the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

The Jacksons are still battling over where their divorce case should be heard. He wants it to be litigated in Chicago; she wants it heard in Washington, D.C., where she lives with their two children.

The Trump cards . . .

Sneed hears informed speculation President Donald Trump may choose to appoint a U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois from outside the city or the state’s legal community.

“Trump is constantly blasting Chicago for its gun violence — and could choose to bring his own sheriff into town,” a powerful Illinois jurist told Sneed.

In 2001, President George W. Bush appointed Patrick Fitzgeraldas U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois when Fitzgerald was working as an assistant attorney for the New York U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District.

• Trump card II: In addition, Trump has an opening to appoint a new Illinois federal judge now that federal District Judge Jack Darrah has died.

Takin’ a Chance . . .

Chance the Rapper is making the rounds!

• To wit: The night before the young rapping sensation hit the podium Friday to announce he was setting up an arts and literature fund to help Chicago Public Schools, he was hopping onstage at Studio Paris Nightclub.

• Translation: Chance jumped onstage during fellow rapper Ja Rule’s performance at the boite — after Ja Rule gave a shout out to Chance, praising him on his recent success.

The duo then performed Chance’s hitsong “No Problem” from his Grammy-winning/streaming-only rap album, “Coloring Book.”

Both artists had their own VIP tables next to the stage.

No autographs.

Chance entered around midnight and exited an hour plus later.


Gubernatorial hopeful Chris Kennedy’s first out-of-state fundraiser is Tuesday in New York City.

His sister, Kerry Kennedy [formerly married to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo], is hosting.

Actresses Catherine Keener and Rosie Perez and 49 other co-hosts are expected to attend a major bash followed by a private, $5,000-a-tab dinner at Kerry’s home.

Coffee clutch . . .

Chicago Police Commanders and twin brothers Kenneth and Kevin Johnson, who have been praised for their innovative work combating crime in two of the city’s most historically violent districts, Englewood and Harrison, just got a birthday gift from Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

• Explanation: On Friday, hizzoner dropped by each precinct unannounced — with a gift in hand.

• The gift? Starbucks gift cards.

There ya go.

Sneedlings . . .

I spy: Milo “This Is Us” Ventimiglia dining at Gibsons on Rush recently. . . . Ditto for Bulls player Denzel Valentine. . . . White Sox broadcasters Steve Stone and Jason Benetti lunched at Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse in River North on Friday. . . . Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Kate Bock spotted at Luxbar on Monday night. . . . Saturday’s birthdays: Hillary Scott, 31; Rachel Maddow, 44; and Robin Lopez, 29. . . . Sunday’s birthdays: Michael Fassbender, 40; Christopher Meloni, 56; and Emmylou Harris, 70.

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