Blago judge fooled by defense team antics in round 1

April 14, 2011

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(WBEZ/Robert Wildeboer)
Gov. Blagojevich speaking outside his home Wednesday evening.

The judge overseeing the trial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich says he was duped by the governor's defense team in the last trial.  As a result Judge James Zagel indicated at a hearing Thursday that he's going to keep Blagojevich's defense team on a short leash, shorter than in the first trial.

Zagel said he gave them a lot of leeway in their questioning in the first trial because he thought Blagojevich would testify and that testimony would provide a foundation for evidence that otherwise might not have been allowed.  Blagojevich attorney Sam Adam Jr. had promised jurors in his opening statement that the governor was going to take the witness stand but when the time came, Blagojevich's attorneys didn't present a defense at all.

Adam apologized to jurors that they didn't get to hear the governor's side of the story but he said prosecutors hadn't proven their case so there was no need for them to present any witnesses. 

That's unlikely to happen this time.  Zagel handed Blagojevich's defense team several setbacks at Thursday's hearing.  He denied several motions going so far as to say one struck him as having a quote, "certain amount of desperation."  And Zagel reiterated previous rulings saying that the lawyers can't spend the trial pointing to all of Blagojevich's good deeds in office.  He said a criminal who robs banks 10 times in a year can't point to the other three hundred and fifty five days of lawfulness as a defense.

Zagel also reminded Blagojevich's attorneys that they shouldn't ask witnesses questions to simply get jurors to speculate on what might be on phone recordings that aren't played in court.  That was a trick Blagojevich's team used repeatedly in the first trial.  Jury selection in Blagojevich's retrial is scheduled to begin next wednesday.