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Tag: judge james zagel

Judge Doesn’t Budge on Lowering Blagojevich’s Sentence Despite Apology and Daughters’ Tears

Ex-Gov. Blagojevich

Ex-Gov. Blagojevich

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Rod Blagojevich and his family hoped that a federal judge in Chicago on Tuesday would reduce the ex-Illinois governor’s 14-year sentence during a resentencing hearing. But that didn’t happen.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Blago’s  young daughters wept openly in the front row of a federal courtroom and clutched their mom. Their dad, who is locked up at a federal prison in Colorado, appeared in court via a video transmission. He now sports stark white hair.

“I made mistakes,” Blagojevich, 59, said, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. “I regret those mistakes and those judgments. And I’m sorry, your honor. I wish I could find a way to turn the clock back and make different choices. But that is not possible.”

But U.S. District Judge James Zagel was unmoved and reinstated the 14-year prison sentence despite an appellate court ruling that tossed five of Blagojevich’s convictions last year,  the paper reported.

Other politicians who have gotten stiff sentences for public corruption convictions in recent years include former New Orleans Congressman William Jefferson, who got 13 years and former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who was sentenced to 28 years.

Blago’s Biggest Crime: He Thought He Was Smarter Than All of Us

Blagojevich/file photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Ok, so I wouldn’t have given ex-Ill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich 14 years in prison for his infinite arrogance and his corrupt ways. Ten or 12 would have sufficed.

That being said, I can’t say he didn’t deserve getting the toughest sentence of any crooked Illinois governor. He never stopped yapping and denying and lying. He went on Letterman and the View and the Daily Show and came up with more trash than a mobbed-up sanitation firm.

The worst part about it all is that he assumed we were all dumber than him.

It was obvious the sentencing Judge James Zagel wasn’t dumber than Blago. And it was easy to see from press reports from the two trials that the judge didn’t appreciate his shenanigans.

In Blago’s first trial, the prosecution screwed up. It made the case far too complicated for the jury. The jury came back with one conviction out of 24 counts. Blago and his attorneys had sense of enough not to put Blago on the stand.

But in the second trial, prosecutors convicted Blago on 17 of 20 counts. Blago took the stand — the arrogant guy that he is — hoping to dupe the jury. That didn’t work.

Blago turns 55 on Dec. 10. He’s set to report to prison in February. He’ll be gone a long long time.

I feel sorry for him. Even though he has a law degree and served in Congress and was governor, he wasn’t a very smart guy.

And the dumbest thing he did was assume he was a smart guy — smarter than all the rest of us.

Blago: Just Another Crooked Ill. Pol or Someone to Be Made an Example of?

Ex-Gov on NBC's Celebrity Apprentice

By Danny Fenster
ticklethewire.com

Chatty ex-Ill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich may have gotten an added stretch of freedom when a federal judge  in Chicago decided this week to delay his Oct. 6 sentencing date. But legal observers are convinced the reprieve is only temporary and that he’ll get some serious prison time. Predictions range from 8 to 25 years.

“I’m just giving voice to whats generally been a consensus in the community,” said Rodger Heaton, a former U.S. Attorney for Central Illinois and currently with the law firm Hinshaw & Culbertson, “but I’ve been hearing a projected estimate of eight to fifteen years. Some people have also said ten or 11.”

Dick Simpson, a professor of political science at the University of Illinois-Chicago and frequent commentator on local news, echoes those sentiments.

“My guess is ten to 15 years,” Simpson said in an phone interview. “You have to look at other similar cases, and in particular I’m looking at former Governor George Ryan.” Ryan, the Illinois governor immediately preceding Blagojevich, is serving a six-and-a-half-year sentence after being convicted on federal corruption charges in 2006, though sentencing guidelines counseled for more.

“You have to look at both, and you figure how much worse one was than the other,” said Simpson.

Blagojevich engaged with the national media in a way few criminal defendants have. He went on a lengthy tour of popular television news and talk shows like the Late Show with David Letterman and the Daily Show and pleaded his innocence.

Ex-U.S. Atty. Heaton/law firm photo

“In a sense, I have seen public officials who go on trial try to influence public perception,” said ex-U.S. Attorney Heaton, but Blagojevich’s errant behavior was something different. “I have not seen someone go on television talk shows, on reality shows,” the way Blagojevich has. “It is very unique to engage the popular media the way he has done.”

Though there is nothing in the federal sentencing guidelines that talks specifically about that sort of media engagement, says Heaton, it may significantly influence the sentencing judge’s perceptions of Blagojevich’s sense of remorse.

“Throughout, on his television appearances, he showed a failure to accept responsibility for his actions. He maintained his innocence and seemed to be willing to do anything to continue maintaining that,” said Heaton. “I think that will be one factor.”

In his first trial, Blagojevich was convicted on only 1 of 24 counts. The jury deadlocked on the remaining ones. But in the second trial, the prosecution trounced him, getting convictions on 17 of 20 counts. Technically, he faces up to around 250 years, but the sentencing guidelines call for far less. He has been free on $450,000 bond, having put up his North side Chicago home and a D.C. condo as collateral.

Some report that prosecutors will seek a 30 year sentence.

“[James Zagel, the sentencing judge] will be reasonably unhappy about the crime itself–he’s a former U.S. Attorney, a former state employee,” said Simpson, and he will not take kindly to a violation of the public trust. Still, most experts don’t predict the higher end of the sentencing. “You have violent crimes that get less than 30 years,” said Simpson.

Read more »

No Surprise Here; Blago Testimony Angers Judge


By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

If you figured the testimony of ex-Ill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich at his retrial on corruption charges in downtown Chicago would be filled with shenanigans and piss off the judge, well…. you guessed right.

First off, the U.S. District Judge James Zagel on Wednesday got angry after Blago tried “smuggling” in evidence that had been barred. One example: Blagojevich suggested to jurors that the government had deleted portions of recorded calls that were favorable to him, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

“This is a deliberate effort by this witness to raise something that he can’t raise, to say something that was good was eliminated,” Zagel said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “This is not fair. This is a repeated example of a defendant who wants to say something, by smuggling [it] in.”

“Do you understand what I have just said?” an irritated Zagel asked the defense. “Is that clear?”

Later, outside the presence of the jury, the judge berated defense lawyer Aaron Goldstein, accusing him of using stall tactics so prosecutors couldn’t cross exam Blago til next week, the Sun-Times reported.

“It’s a source of real concern,” the judge said. “I am not uncertain in my conclusion that you are running the clock.”

Zagel said he would give the prosecution the option of questioning Blago on Thursday regardless of when the defense concluded its direct examination, the Sun-Times reported.