Judges to Hear Blagojevich Appeal 12/13 07:31
CHICAGO (AP) -- Imprisoned former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich will on
Friday get what will likely be his last chance to win his freedom as a
three-judge federal panel hears oral arguments in his appeal.
A lawyer for the disgraced Illinois Democrat steps before the 7th U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago to ask it to toss Blagojevich's corruption
Short of that, Blagojevich's defense team hopes the court will at least
agree to reduce his 14-year prison term --- one of the longest sentences ever
imposed for political corruption in a state where four of the last seven
governors have ended up in prison.
FBI agents arrested then-Gov. Blagojevich five years ago this week, on Dec.
9, 2008. A jury convicted him of wide-ranging charges in 2011, including for
trying to profit from his power to name someone to President Barack Obama's old
U.S. Senate seat.
The onetime contestant on NBC's "Apprentice" won't be at Friday's hearing in
Chicago. He remains behind bars a thousand miles away, now into his second year
inside a Colorado prison.
The panel isn't expected to issue a ruling on Blagojevich's appeal for at
least several weeks. If it goes against him, he could try to appeal to the
nation's highest court, though there's no guarantee the Supreme Court would
even agree to hear his case.
Friday's arguments are an opportunity for judges to fire questions at the
defense and prosecution. They've already seen the 100-page appeal defense
lawyers filed in July and the government's 169-page response that was filed
Blagojevich's appeal includes a laundry list of alleged errors by trial
Judge James Zagel. It says he allowed one juror --- referred to only as Juror
No. 174 --- to remain on the panel during the second and decisive trial, even
after he said about Blagojevich during jury selection, "I just figured him,
possibly, to be guilty."
The most novel argument in the appeal is that Blagojevich's bid to secure an
ambassadorship or some other high-paying job for himself in exchange for an
appointment to the Senate seat was far from being a crime; it was part of
run-of-the-mill "political horse-trading."
In their November filing, prosecutors balked at the notion that what
Blagojevich did was commonplace, writing that, "A public official who sells his
office engages in crime, not politics."
They also addressed the allegedly biased juror. A partially formed opinion,
they noted, isn't in itself grounds for booting someone from a jury, provided
that would-be jurors assure a judge they will decide a verdict based only on
evidence at trial. Juror No. 174 gave that assurance.
Blagojevich's appeal seems to face long odds.
Appellate judges at the 7th Circuit have a reputation for rarely quashing
convictions unless a lower court's errors are egregious. According to 2012
court statistics, its judges reversed lower court findings in only around 15
percent of appeals.