Prosecutors to rest today in Blagojevich retrial

May 19, 2011

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(WBEZ/Robert Wildeboer)
Blagojevich attorney Sheldon Sorosky is playing coy with the media and won't say if they'll put on a defense.

Prosecutors are expected to wrap up their case Thursday against former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, calling just four more witnesses to the stand to elicit about 90 minutes' worth of testimony.

Throughout this retrial prosecutors focused largely on allegations that Blagojevich tried to get something of personal value for appointing someone to Barack Obama's senate seat when Obama won the presidency in 2008.  They've spent three weeks presenting their evidence, compared to about five weeks in the first trial.

The defense is tentatively scheduled to start presenting their case Monday, but they don't have to present any witnesses at all if they don't want to.  They declined to put on a case in the first trial, saying it made it seem like the government had presented something that they did have to answer to.

Blagojevich attorney Sheldon Sorosky says they haven't decided whether they'll put on a defense, and if they do, whether the former governor will testify.

Blagojevich's defense team has continued to struggle in court.  On Wednesday Judge James Zagel repeatedly warned the former governor's attorneys to stop asking improper questions.  He's previously told them they should not make arguments to the jury in the form of poorly disguised questions, and he reminded jurors that questions from lawyers are not evidence.

The warning came after prosecutor Reid Schar complained to the judge, saying Blagojevich attorney Sheldon Sorosky was "way over the top."  Schar said prosecutors have been put in the impossible position of either letting Sorosky get his improper questions in front of the jury, or of constantly interrupting him.

Zagel told Blagojevich's lawyers that he will end their cross examinations of witnesses if they continue to ask improper questions.  He also pointed out that judges have to make close calls that can swing one way or the other depending on whether the judge trusts that the lawyers are trying to follow the rulings.  And he noted that Sorosky has repeatedly - and perhaps willingly - ignored his rulings.