Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich should get a new sentencing hearing before his long-shot bid for freedom reaches the U.S. Supreme Court, government lawyers contend.
The imprisoned Democrat, who is serving a 14-year sentence, asked the high court to hear his appeal last fall after a three-judge appellate panel tossed five of his 18 criminal convictions and ordered him to be resentenced. Though the ruling appeared at first glance to be a win for Blagojevich, the panel tempered it by noting “it is not possible to call 168 months unlawfully high for Blagojevich’s crimes.”
The U.S. Solicitor General’s office answered Blagojevich’s Supreme Court petition Friday and argued the former governor’s bid for a hearing should be denied because the work of the lower court is not complete, according to a copy of the brief obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.
“Here, the interests of judicial economy would be served best by denying review now and allowing [Blagojevich] to reassert his claims — including any new claims that might arise following resentencing or retrial, if one occurs — at the conclusion of the proceedings,” the government lawyers wrote.
U.S. District Judge James Zagel has not scheduled a hearing since the three-judge panel called for the re-sentencing in July.
Leonard Goodman, Blagojevich’s appellate attorney, called the government’s latest argument a “non-starter.” He said Blagojevich is only appealing to the Supreme Court on the remaining convictions.
“To say that the case is not final is just not correct,” Goodman said.
The government also denied claims by Blagojevich’s lawyers that the appellate court’s decision in his case conflicts with previous court rulings when it comes to jury instructions.
Meanwhile, records show the former governor has found support in his Supreme Court bid from a group of politicians and labor leaders who “take no position on Mr. Blagojevich’s innocence or guilt.” However, they argued in a filing in December that, “it is important to the effective operation of the nation’s political system that the court clarify the legal standard to distinguish between the necessary, legitimate solicitation of campaign contributions, on the one hand, and unlawful extortion, bribery, and fraud, on the other.”
U.S. Reps. Jan Schakowsky, Danny Davis, Mike Quigley and Bobby Rush are among those named in the amicus brief, as well as former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones and Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis.
Blagojevich, 59, was convicted of 18 counts over two trials, including that he attempted to trade his power to appoint someone to a U.S. Senate seat in exchange for personal benefits.