Blagojevich and family ‘disappointed’ in appellate court ruling
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Rod Blagojevich’s 18-year-old daughter gripped her mother’s hand Tuesday as they stood outside their Ravenswood Manor home.
Amy Blagojevich listened, and ultimately buried her face in her mother’s shoulder, as Patti Blagojevich reacted to a court ruling they hoped would set the former governor free.
“This has been a long road for our family,” Patti Blagojevich said. “We waited a long time for this decision, and we are very disappointed. This all started when Amy was 12 years old. She’s now going to be 19. And our younger daughter Annie, is now 12.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals threw out five of 18 criminal convictions against Rod Blagojevich in a long-awaited decision Tuesday. The ruling opened up the possibility — however unlikely — of a third trial. More significantly, it meant Blagojevich could get a new sentencing hearing more than three years after he began a 14-year prison term.
But there is no guarantee that the bottom line will change for Blagojevich, 58. Even as it tossed nearly a third of the counts against him, the appellate court wrote, “It is not possible to call 168 months unlawfully high for Blagojevich’s crimes.”
That’s not what his wife and two daughters hoped to hear.
Amy Blagojevich left in tears before the end of a press conference outside the Blagojevich family home. Leonard Goodman, Blagojevich’s appellate attorney, said he hadn’t decided exactly how to respond to the ruling. But he said, “It’s not justice.”
“My advice to the governor is that he should fight on,” Goodman said.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment.
When the appeal was first argued in December 2013, U.S. Appellate Court Judge Frank Easterbrook asked pointed questions about what separated Blagojevich’s actions from the legal horse trading politicians typically rely upon to advance their careers.
In Tuesday’s ruling — written by Easterbrook — the court found a problem with instructions given to jurors relating to Blagojevich’s proposal to appoint Valerie Jarrett to President-elect Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat in exchange for a Cabinet appointment.
“The instructions permitted the jury to convict even if it found that his only request of Sen. Obama was for a position in the Cabinet,” Easterbrook wrote. “The instructions treated all proposals alike. We conclude, however, that they are legally different: a proposal to trade one public act for another, a form of logrolling, is fundamentally unlike the swap of an official act for a private payment.”
The court went on to say that “governance would hardly be possible without” allowing for so-called “logrolling.” An example of the practice, the court said, is a proposal to appoint one person to one office in exchange for a promise to appoint a different person to a different office.
Having vacated the five counts, the appellate court sent the case back to U.S. District Judge James Zagel for “re-sentencing across the board.”
Goodman said Tuesday that the appellate court erred in three ways. He said it’s relevant that Blagojevich thought his actions were legal, and he said jurors received bad instructions on extortion law. He also said those jurors never heard evidence that Blagojevich tried to separate Senate talks from his efforts to obtain campaign contributions from former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.
Finally, Goodman said “most people agree” that Blagojevich’s 14-year sentence “is incredibly harsh for a case that is all about politics.” But the appellate court noted that federal sentencing guidelines recommend between 30 years and life in prison.
“Instead of expressing relief, Blagojevich maintains that the sentence is too high because the range was too high,” Easterbrook wrote.
The court said prosecutors are free to ask that Zagel impose that same 14-year sentence on Blagojevich, but it said the judge should consider “whether it is the most appropriate sentence.”
The former governor’s brother, Robert, told the Sun-Times he was “cautiously optimistic” after the ruling.
“I’m hopeful that this will lead to a long overdue, positive outcome for my brother,” Robert Blagojevich said in a telephone interview. “Justice is long overdue.”
Standing outside her Northwest Side home, Patti Blagojevich said she could offer one “good” comment about the decision Tuesday.
“Possibly, this is a step in the right direction of getting Rod home to his family,” she said. “There hasn’t been a day that’s passed in the last seven years that hasn’t been tainted by the sadness of this, these proceedings.
“There’s been so much that we’ve been through the last three and a half years that Rod’s missed.
“High school graduations, proms, birthdays — and so if there’s any silver lining for us it’s that possibly this is a step in the right direction in getting him home with us.”
She also said she has no regrets about her husband’s legal decisions early on in the case. She said, “we’d rather see him there, with his head held high, than to be home in disgrace.”
Then she turned to walk up the steps to her front door. And as she did so, a voice cried out, “Free Blago!”
Patti Blagojevich turned, gave a clap, and said “thank you.”
Contributing: Natasha Korecki, Reema Amin