Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich seeks new trial on fraud conviction
By Abdon M. Pallasch Political Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org July 26, 2011 1:40AM
Rod Blagojevich arrives at the Dirksen Federal Building on Tuesday.
Updated: July 26, 2011 4:54PM
Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich filed a motion late Monday asking a federal judge to grant him a new trial on his fraud conviction for allegedly shaking down contributors and trying to sell Barack Obama’s senate seat.
U.S. District Judge James Zagel ruled too often for prosecutors and too often against Blagojevich, denying the former governor the ability to defend himself, the motion states. The motion, filed just before the midnight deadline, asks Zagel to set aside the conviction and grant Blagojevich a new trial.
“The convictions were the result of a fundamentally unfair trial, at which the defense was handicapped beyond repair by the Court’s rulings in favor of the government,” Blagojevich’s lawyers wrote.
For example, when the government presented tape recordings of Blagojevich saying President-elect Obama ought to appoint him secretary of Health and Human Services in exchange for appointing Obama’s friend Valerie Jarrett to Obama’s senate seat, Blagojevich should have been able to argue that he fought for health care as governor, the motion states.
Likewise, Blagojevich should have been able to make that argument in response to testimony that he shook down the head of Children’s Memorial Hospital for a campaign contribution -- threatening to hold up a law increasing state payments to the hospital.
“The fact that Blagojevich had a history of supporting children‘s health care and a passionate dedication to health care reform based on his own life experiences and the tragic losses of close family is a factor the jury should have considered regarding (1) why he believed he was qualified to be Secretary of Health and Human Services and (2) whether or not he would form the intent to shake down Children‘s Memorial Hospital,” the lawyers wrote in the motion.
Blagojevich did tell jurors while he was on the stand that he freed up money for breast cancer screening, though prosecutors objected and Zagel sustained the objection.
Zagel allowed jurors pre-disposed to rule against Blagojevich onto the jury, forcing Blagojevich’s lawyers to use up their peremptory challenges, while granting prosecutors’ motions to excuse from the jury those who might be sympathetic to the former governor, the appeal states.
Referring to Blagojevich’s tape-recorded quote that his power to appoint Obama’s replacement to the U.S. Senate was “f------ golden,” Blagojevich’s lawyers wrote of one of the jurors Zagel left in the pool: “Juror 160 had downloaded the ‘f------ golden’ wiretap recording onto his cell phone as his ringtone. This alone should have rendered Juror 160 unsuitable for jury service on this case.”
Zagel also refused to allow Blagojevich to argue that he was relying on his lawyers’ advice when he committed the acts in question.
“Rod Blagojevich operated within the confines of a legal system of campaign contributions, and was in constant communication with lawyers and advisors at every step. To find that there was wrong-doing in this case should result in reform of the system, not in the conviction of Blagojevich,” his lawyers wrote.