Judge says Blago's retrial will likely be early January
August 26, 2010 4:49 PM | 10 Comments | UPDATED STORY
The judge who presided over Rod Blagojevich's corruption trial says he'll likely set the retrial for early January and reiterated that he probably won't allow the former governor to have more than two taxpayer-funded lawyers.
Judge James Zagel said today he would be open to allowing more attorneys if they volunteered their time, or allowing attorneys paid for by a benefactor.
Zagel said the trial date will likely be the first week of the new year, but not on Jan. 3, just after the New Year's holiday.
The judge said the date revolves around the complications of getting a jury selected. That process lasts six to eight weeks, and begins with a questionnaire on whether prospective panelists can serve on a lengthy trial.
If that process started immediately, opening statements would be given in October and jury deliberations could run into the holidays, Zagel said.
"We have a certainty that we're dealing with deliberations in the last half of December, and that's a bad time to do it - a distracted jury," Zagel said.
A delay until January also will allow some of the publicity surrounding the case to die down, he said, and will lead to a jury pool that includes people who have a general memory of the case but not a specific one.
Such jurors are "much more likely to draw their inferences from the evidence."
Zagel said the initial questionnaire that goes out to would-be jurors this fall will include an admonition from him that they should begin ignoring Blagojevich news. "It's some added protection."
Blagojevich depleted his $2.7 million campaign fund paying seven attorneys in his first trial, raising the possibility he will have to use taxpayer-funded attorneys for a retrial.
If Blagojevich is declared indigent and his attorneys are paid from public funds, the number of lawyers for the retrial will most likely be two, Zagel said, citing the Criminal Justice Act.
The first step, the judge said, is to get a full financial statement from the former governor, which includes his income, assets and liabilities. It can be filed under seal, the judge said, and "it has to be under oath."
But two attorneys is the maximum a judge has discretion to alllow, Zagel said, adding that he believes the case will be easier to handle the second time around for Blagojevich's team.
"The large contingent that assisted him last time has examined the evidence and has put it on various computers, has organized it in various ways," the judge said. "And the defendant knows in large part what prosecutors are going to do."
Blagojevich attorney Sheldon Sorosky received permission from the judge to bring on volunteer lawyers who might assist with the defense, though no names were mentioned. Zagel said he would need to consider the source of any additional funds that are given to the governor for legal defense.
Sorosky said it's possible money could be raised or provided just for legal help. "We're not talking about illegal drug money or anything like that," he assured Zagel to some laughter in court.
Sorosky said he does not agree that Blagojevich would not be harmed by having only two attorneys, down from seven.
"Absent all the lawyers that we had, I don't know we could've obtained the same result -- good, bad or neutral," Sorosky said of the first trial, likening the government's effort to prosecute Blagojevich a "David vs. Goliath" situation.
But Zagel answered that the number of lawyers for the former governor was extraordinary and that, in his view, Blagojevich and his team looked more like Goliath vs. just three prosecutors.
Zagel said any lawyer wanting to withdraw should do so by Oct. 1 so the defense can be settled in time for the January retrial.
After the hearing, Blagojevich lawyer Sam Adam Sr. disputed reports that he and his animated lawyer son, Sam Adam Jr., had decided not to represent the former governor at a retrial.
Adam Sr. said he, his son and the other lawyers representing Blagojevich would discuss the makeup of the legal team for a second trial with their client, but allow him to make the final call on who stays and who goes.
Adam Sr. said everything would be on the table, including the possibility of seeking a plea deal, though he acknowledged that wasn't likely since Blagojevich has said in recent media interviews that he would not do so.
"I have never discussed a possible plea with the government," he said, stressing that prosecutors have never broached the idea of a deal either. "But I'll discuss anything."
"It's up to him," Adam Sr. said of Blagojevich. "He's the client. Whatever he thinks is best we'll do."
And Adam Sr. said he would even consider remaining on the legal team and working for free if Blagojevich asked him to. "I'm prepared to do anything the client wants, including working for free. He's our friend and he's our client.
Adam Jr., who took the lead role in defending Blagojevich at the just completed trial, was not present in court Thursday. His father said the younger Adam was exhausted by the trial, quickly left for vacation and has not spoken to Blagojevich since those proceedings concluded.
Sources say Adam Jr. has told other attorneys in the case that it's time for him and his father to move on.
On Wednesday, Sorosky said he believes the younger Adam -- whom he described as a "legal Michelangelo" -- may struggle to find the energy to tackle the mammoth task again.
Adam's closing argument was marked by loud and passionate pleas, a flurry of government objections and even an apology for sweating on a juror.
"I believe that (Adam) believes he gave it his all and he did his very best, and he doesn't know if he could help the governor in the same way the next time around," Sorosky said.
"But you never know if he came back in a more casual way, and then he gets a fire in the belly and then he's ready to go again," said Sorosky, explaining that Adam may just need time to recharge. "Time is a factor here too. We might be able to give it a few months and see."
-- Jeff Coen, Bob Secter