Judge bristles at Blagojevich request to cancel retrial

March 21, 2011

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(WBEZ file/Sam Hudzik)
The former governor still faces 20 counts.

Despite a tongue-lashing Monday from a federal judge in Chicago, lawyers for Rod Blagojevich say they will forge ahead with a request to cancel the ex-Illinois governor’s corruption retrial.

The attorneys motioned this month for Judge James Zagel to sentence Blagojevich on his sole conviction — lying to the FBI — and toss out another 20 counts against him. But Zagel refused to dignify the long-shot motion with a ruling Monday, saying Blagojevich’s defense team didn’t file its paperwork properly.

When lead Blagojevich attorney Sheldon Sorosky pressed Zagel to “indulge” him and rule anyway, the judge suggested that the motion was more about gaining pre-trial publicity than advancing a strong legal argument.

But Sorosky, undeterred, pressed further. Zagel responded by lecturing him on the role of the three branches of government, saying a judge had no control over prosecutors.

"To borrow something from legislative procedure," Zagel said, "this particular motion is going to die for want of a second. So we're done with it."

Asked after the hearing about Zagel’s comments, Sorosky still seemed optimistic. “One never knows,” he said. “Look at the March Madness tournaments — the No. 1 team lost! Pittsburgh!”

The motion says Blagojevich is not conceding guilt, not even on the conviction of perjury - the only count on which jurors agreed at his trial last year. The former governor’s lawyers argue that a second trial would be an “imprudent” use of taxpayer dollars. The court ordered taxpayers to foot the legal bills because, it said, Blagojevich could not afford them.

But Blagojevich's lawyers complained the government hadn't paid them in months, due in part to Congress' inability to pass a full federal budget. The former governor's legal team has since been paid, they said Monday, but they still plan to push forward with their motion.

Blagojevich faces a maximum five-year prison term for the perjury conviction. Some of the 20 remaining charges carry much longer sentences. The retrial is due to start next month.