Korecki: Don’t start packing your stuff, Rod Blagojevich
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It’s clear that former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his legal team believed that after an 18-month wait, an appellate court ruling on his case would not only bring good news — but could even bring Blagojevich home.
Instead, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals delivered a decision that on the one hand threw out Blagojevich’s 14-year prison sentence, but on the other, suggested that if he’s sentenced to that term again, they’d uphold it.
The 23-page ruling at one point even suggested that prosecutors had the right to ask for more prison time for the former governor.
The bottom line: Rod Blagojevich isn’t coming home anytime soon.
“It’s shocking to me that after a year and a half this could be the result of the court’s work,” said a visibly flustered Len Goodman, an attorney who handled Blagojevich’s appeal. Goodman spoke from in front of the Blagojevich home in Ravenswood Manor on Tuesday.
Blagojevich 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. The court threw out five counts in the case, criticizing the prosecution’s argument that it was illegal for Blagojevich to trade a promise of an appointment for another appointment.
Some of the case against Blagojevich “supposes an extreme version of truth in politics, in which a politician commits a felony unless the ostensible reason for an official act is the real one,” the court ruled.
Still, the judges held up the remaining counts, including that the former governor sought $1.5 million in exchange for appointing then-U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. to the Senate seat vacated when Barack Obama was first elected president in 2008.
“Because we have affirmed the convictions on most counts and concluded that the advisory sentencing range lies above 168 months, Blagojevich is not entitled to be released pending these further proceedings,” the three-judge panel of the appeals court wrote.
The long-awaited ruling did give Blagojevich a glimmer of hope, saying that his 14-year sentence was not “unlawfully high for Blagojevich’s crimes, but the district judge should consider on remand whether it is the most appropriate sentence.”
We are likely headed to a Rod Blagojevich vs. U.S. District Judge James Zagel faceoff.
The question is: Has Zagel softened?
Zagel was loath of Blagojevich’s tactics inside and outside of court. That was back in Blagojevich’s days doing stints on reality TV and holding numerous news conferences while he awaited trial.
Times have changed. Blagojevich, 58, has been quiet since he surrendered to a Colorado prison in 2012.
“He’s going to get a sentence reduction in my opinion,” said Chicago defense attorney Ed Genson. “It’s just logical. He’s been in a long time. The braggadocio isn’t there, he’s very humble from what I see. . . . If they really wanted to give him the same time, they should retry him. Therefore, I think there’s a justification in reducing the sentence.”
If ever the jurist had a second thought on whether he gave the former governor too much time behind bars, Zagel has the cover needed to reduce it.
The appeals decision said prosecutors have the right to retry the ex-governor on the five counts. But that’s unlikely, given that the original prosecutors on the case have left the office, a retrial would be costly and the fact that the sentence could remain the same without retrial.
“This has got to go to the Supreme Court,” said Chicago federal defense attorney Michael Ettinger, who represented Blagojevich’s brother, Robert.
Ettinger argued that the appeals decision finding errors in some instructions to the jury has broader consequences.
“If you got the wrong instructions on five, then that’s going to taint the other counts, in my opinion. You can’t have counts where there are bad instructions and think that they don’t affect the whole trial.”
Goodman had the same thought, saying he would encourage his client to “fight on” in the case.
But court cases in general only have a slim chance of reaching the Supreme Court, which chooses to take up only a relatively small amount of cases each year.
Goodman contended that “most people would agree” that the sentence was “incredibly harsh” for a case that’s all about politics.
The 7th Circuit begged to differ.
“Blagojevich now asks us to hold that the evidence is insufficient to convict him on any count,” the court ruled. “The argument is frivolous. The evidence, much of it from Blagojevich’s own mouth, is overwhelming.”
Follow Natasha Korecki on Twitter: @natashakorecki