James Zagel


Jury selection continued today for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s retrial on an array of corruption charges.  One man asked to be excused from consideration because “I’m supposed to start a new job today. I’ve been unemployed for 16 months. I have documentation that I’m starting today, or suppose to start today,” he told Judge James Zagel in a note.

That caught my attention because something similar once happened to me. The last time I was unemployed, after The Times laid me off, I went nine months without being called for jury duty. Then as soon as I landed a job to help launch Ottawa Delivered, I received a notice for jury duty — for the week the first issue of Ottawa Delivered was scheduled to hit newsstands and launch online.

The county clerk let me off the hook, though I got another notice for jury duty just a few months later. The second time my jury pool didn’t get called in, so I didn’t have to serve that time, either.

Now a couple years later, I find myself on the unemployment line again (victim of another newspaper layoff), and I sort of wish I would get called for jury duty. I haven’t so far, but both my wife and her brother-in-law have been called for jury duty — and served on a jury — while I’ve been off work. Go figure.

But that’s OK. I’m pursuing a book idea that should keep me busy this summer. As a result, I probably won’t be blogging at The Bread Line as much as I did the first time I was unemployed — but that’s OK, too, if that means I’ll finish writing a book. But I’ll still be posting here semi-regularly — I certainly expect to blog about the Blagojevich trial — and when the time is right, I’ll reveal more about my book project.

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I’m filing this report from my hidden lair along the border between the dangerous Northern Province and the rest of Illinois …

For the sake of those who didn’t see “The Daily Show” Monday evening, I must mention that during a segment wherein correspondent John Oliver searches for the “Wisconsin 14,” Oliver travels through the “Northern Province” of Illinois (which, judging by the “Daily Show” map, appears to be everywhere in the state north of Interstate 80) and calls it a “savage, frozen territory.”

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, whom Oliver referred to as a “notorious former warlord,” made a surprise appearance, providing the segment with its (bleeping) golden moment. In a nutshell, Oliver asks Blagojevich if he knows where the Wisconsin 14 are, Blagojevich says he doesn’t, and Blagojevich issues a statement of support for the Wisconsin 14.

“These lawmakers standing up for working people, and the fundamental rights of working people to bargain collectively with their employers — that is (bleeping) golden,” Blagojevich says.

Also, Oliver asks Blagojevich if the convicted ex-governor is allowed to “just walk around here.”

The segment can be found here on NBC Chicago’s website.

In other, more serious Blagojevich news today, the former governor withdrew his request to travel to England to speak to the Oxford Union, a student society at Oxford University. Blagojevich likely would have had to pay for his international airfare out of his own pocket, which would have created a new problem for him since he is using public funds to pay for his defense.

Whether Judge James Zagel would’ve granted permission is unknown, though he did reject a similar request in 2009 when Blagojevich wanted to appear on the TV reality show “I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!” (Instead, his wife, Patti Blagojevich, appeared on the show. I blogged here at The Bread Line about Patti’s jungle adventures on the show, and you can find those posts here.)

I also learned today that Chicago Tribune reporters John Chase and Jeff Coen are working on a book about Blagojevich. Coen’s last book, “Family Secrets: The Case That Crippled the Chicago Mob,” was widely praised. I already knew that Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jimmy Breslin also is working on a Blagojevich book, with Blagojevich’s blessing — which means Breslin’s book will be the BS version of the Blagojevich story.

Unfortunately, Blagojevich’s publicist Glenn Selig previously said the former governor also would like to write another book. Please, no.

Not surprisingly, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has resurfaced in the news in time to try to influence the upcoming Chicago mayoral race.

Attorneys for the impeached governor filed a motion Tuesday seeking supposedly missing evidence in his corruption trial, including records of a phone call between an aide and Rahm Emanuel, then the White House chief of staff (and now the clear frontrunner in the Chicago mayoral race). I use the phrase “supposedly missing” because I’m suspicious that the lawyers didn’t notice the evidence missing during Blagojevich’s first trial and the timing of the egomaniac ex-governor’s request coincidentally (or not so coincidentally) is just two weeks before the Feb. 22 mayoral election.

No matter. It is unlikely Blagojevich can do anything to derail the Rahm train. All the polls show Emanuel leading by a wide margin; an ABC7 poll released today suggests Emanuel has a commanding lead, drawing the support of 54 percent of those surveyed. (His closest competitor, Gery Chico, has the support of a mere 14 percent of those surveyed.)

Still, Emanuel addressed the subject of the “missing” tape Tuesday. Here is what he said about it, courtesy of the Chicago Sun-Times‘ Blago Blog:

He hearkened back to a two-year-old report by then-President-elect Obama’s transition team that concluded there were “about four” conversations between Emanuel and Blagojevich Chief of Staff John Harris, but “nothing inappropriate or any deal-making.”

“It also noted that I was asked at the time by the President’s transition (team) to provide a list of four names for the U.S. Senate: Tammy Duckworth, Jan Schakowsky, Dan Hynes and Congressman Jesse Jackson [Jr.],” Emanuel recalled, noting there was a separate conversation about Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

Trial testimony indicated that Blagojevich and his team considered this list a “BS list.”

“I provided that list. Then, there was a question: The governor’s representative said, `What’s in it for us?’ And I responded, `You’ll get thanks and appreciation‚ [but nothing more]. You also know how the [former] governor responded to the word, `appreciation.’ That’s been detailed over two years ago in the report.”

Testimony at Rod Blagojevich’s trial indicated that it was in fact lobbyist John Wyma who passed on that message to the Blagojevich team in early November, 2008 at Emanuel’s request. Wyma at that point had been cooperating with the feds in their probe against the former governor and provided the government with the necessary information to put up wiretaps against Blagojevich.

Meanwhile in other Blagojevich news, the judge presiding over the former governor’s retrial (U.S. District Judge James Zagel) ruled Tuesday that jurors’ names will remain anonymous throughout the trial and will not be made public until eight hours after the verdict is delivered. You can read the ruling here, again courtesy of the Sun-Times‘ Blago Blog.

The verdict is in – and verdict is definitely singular in this case – former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is guilty.

As I predicted last weekend, the Blagojevich jury was ready to end deliberations soon, and on Tuesday we learned they could agree on only one charge, that Blagojevich made false statements to an FBI agent. Unanimous decisions couldn’t be reached regarding the other 23 charges against Blagojevich, although the jury was ready to convict him of trying to sell President Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat until one juror had a change of heart Monday.

That’s not quite the acquittal Blagojevich wants us to believe it is. A hung jury means a mistrial on 23 of 24 counts, and there already is a hearing set for Thursday, Aug. 26, when a retrial will be set in motion. (Double jeopardy only applies if a verdict has been reached regarding a particular charge.) Eventually – and probably sooner than later – it will be Showtime at the Dirksen again.

Of course, we taxpayers will foot the bill for the retrial, which isn’t too appealing to our collective pocketbook. What is appealing, however, is justice being served. There should be resolution to whether Blagojevich is guilty of the major offenses he is accused of committing, particularly the attempted sale of a U.S. Senate seat. And if Blagojevich’s life is tied up for another year, I won’t feel too sorry for him, considering the deep fiscal hole he helped dig our state in during his five years as governor.

Hopefully the next jury will put some more time into deliberating. Not that the first jury didn’t do any hard work, but I got the impression that all the jurors’ hearts weren’t completely into it. Yes, they put in a lot of time, put their lives on hold during the workweek as the attorneys argued their cases, but when the time came to deliberate, they asked for Fridays off and seemed to throw in the towel relatively early, especially considering they told Judge Zagel they hadn’t even discussed the 11 counts of wire fraud as of last Thursday. They didn’t deliberate on Friday, so they considered the wire fraud charges only on Monday? If they were confused, they should have asked more questions for clarification’s sake.

Regardless, we’re in for a second round of Blagojevich in court beginning next week. And don’t forget, he plans to appeal his conviction, so he’ll also be making more court appearances regarding that matter.

It will be interesting to see how both sides adjust their approaches to the case during the retrial, and whether Blagojevich will even have the same defense attorneys. Until then, those of us who enjoy following political pageantry and its fallout still have the analysis of the first trial to get us through the night.

After two weeks of deliberations, the jury literally is still out on whether former Gov. Rod Blagojevich is guilty of 24 various charges of corruption.

The jury is still out metaphorically, too, in regard to predictions about how the Blagojevich case will end, especially after Thursday’s development.

In a note to Judge James Zagel, the Blagojevich jury said they have reached verdicts on only two counts, cannot reach agreement about 11 other counts, and haven’t begun deliberating the remaining 11 counts of wire fraud. The jury asked for guidance as to how it should proceed.

Many observers now believe the outcome of this trial won’t be good for the prosecution. I agree, and here’s why:

While only the jury knows which counts it has reached verdicts on, I’m going to assume that the decided counts were ones they quickly dismissed as unproven. I believe this, rather than the opposite scenario, because the jury hasn’t been able to reach an agreement on any other charge. I think it is more likely for a jury that is still divided on so many counts to have dismissed a couple rather than decide Blagojevich is guilty on those charges but then have a hard time coming to that conclusion on so many others.

I also get the impression that the jury is about to announce itself as hung on the remaining counts, since it asked for direction regarding what to do next. I believe the jury is ready to throw in the towel on this case – two weeks of deliberations is enough for them. By their request, they already have been taking off Fridays, deliberating only on Mondays through Thursdays. That leads me to believe they’re more concerned about getting three-day weekends than coming to a consensus about this case.

Speaking of those three-day weekends, Chicago Tonight correspondent Elizabeth Brackett reported Thursday that the jury has already asked for the next two Fridays off, too. That indicates they probably don’t think they can reach a verdict on many, if any, of the remaining undecided counts anytime soon. But, again, I believe this just means an increased chance of a hung jury on most or all of those charges, and that scenario probably would come sooner than later.

Of course, if there is a hung jury, then the former governor could be retried on the charges without verdicts. But first Blagojevich surely would talk triumphantly (and ad nauseam) about how “the truth” prevailed, even if he is found guilty on those two counts the jury agrees on.

In any case, I’ll continue to wait with great interest to find out what the jury decides. In the meantime, perhaps I’ll brush up on my ’80s trivia in case I ever find myself stuck in a cafeteria with Blagojevich.

Now that Patti Blagojevich’s jungle adventure is over, it’s time for the Blagojeviches to remember why NBC wanted one of them to be on “I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!” in the first place.

Her husband, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, faces 16 felony charges of criminal corruption, including racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud, extortion conspiracy, attempted extortion and making false statements to federal agents. Today U.S. District Court Judge James Zagel set Blagojevich’s trial to begin June 3, 2010. Two of Blagojevich’s co-defendants, Lon Monk and John Harris (both former Blagojevich chiefs of staff) are cooperating with authorities and are expected to take the stand as government witnesses if the case goes to trial.

The fun and games should be over for the Blagojeviches now, as they have only 11 months to prepare for what surely will be a lengthy trial, and that preparation includes sifting through about 3.5 million pages of documents. Have fun doing that, Blagojevich lawyers.

In reality, the fun probably isn’t over for the Blagojeviches, particularly Rod. I figure Rod will keep popping up in the media until the day he gets taken away to prison. But what about Patti? One of my Twitter followers jokingly suggested Patti can appear on next year’s edition of “I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!” before the jurors are chosen for her husband’s trial. I’m sure Patti will be invited back on the show, but I doubt she will be a contestant again, mostly because the show likely would air as Rod’s trial is just getting under way. Patti will want to stay home with their children after the trial begins.

Besides that, by this time next year, Patti may have her own trial to start worrying about.

I was pleased to hear Tuesday that U.S. District Court Judge James Zagel did the sensible thing and denied Rod Blagojevich’s request to travel to Costa Rica so the former Illinois governor could participate in NBC’s survival reality show, “I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!”

Zagel said he doesn’t consider Blagojevich a flight risk, but denied the request because Blagojevich doesn’t seem to fully understand the seriousness of his legal problems. I think Zagel is right about that. Blagojevich faces 16 felony charges of criminal corruption that could land him in prison for 25 to 30 years, yet he seems more preoccupied with crazy, self-promoting stunts than saving his hide (and his dignity). I suppose that might say something about how Blagojevich views his chances of staying out of prison — not too good — so he wants to live it up while he is still a free man (constrained by bail requirements).

Blagojevich strikes me as the type of person who crammed a semester’s worth of learning beneath his hair the night before a big exam. He seems to be in denial about his probable future as a convicted felon, and therefore won’t do much about it until right before his trial begins. Then again, Blagojevich also seems like somebody who just acts oblivious to the seriousness of his position, all the while plotting some crazy defense strategy akin to metaphorically setting himself on fire as he proclaims his innocence in the courtroom.

Whatever the case, if Blagojevich decides to pursue a different reality TV show — one he can be on because it is filmed in the United States — Chicago Tribune media columnist Phil Rosenthal has a couple of “(bleeping) golden” ideas:

The network probably also should have offered Blagojevich a slot on “Celebrity Apprentice,” where he could have gone haircut to haircut with Donald Trump.

And “Deal or No Deal”? Suitcases full of money? A banker dangling cash offers to change your mind? What Chicago politician isn’t a natural for that?

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