Judge James Zagel and U.S. prosecutors raised no objections to Rod Blagojevich taking part in NBC's "Celebrity Apprentice" at a status hearing in U.S. Federal Court Monday, but they did express concerns over what the former Illinois governor might say on the show when it airs in March.
"He has a history of repeatedly commenting on the evidence - usually inaccurately," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar. He said Blagojevich's comments could taint the jury pool by mentioning evidence or talking about the possible length of the trial.
Zagel said he was unconcerned and "disinterested" in whether Blagojevich could help or hurt himself in comments on the show, which is under production now in New York City, but he did warn defense attorneys that the issues Blagojevich discusses on the record could open avenues for the prosecution that he might otherwise have limited.
"It is possible that an individual person might say something that creates problems for that person later at trial," Zagel said.
"It's merely a game show," said Blagojevich defense attorney Sam Adam Sr.
"There are significant confessional elements," Zagel countered.
He asked that the U.S. Attorney's Office craft a stipulation in writing - to be sealed under court proceedings - on what Blagojevich might be permitted to address in the context of the show, so that the judge might rule on any violations.
Blagojevich's attorneys said they'd abide by any agreement the judge signed off on, while adding they were largely powerless - and reluctant - to impose restrictions on their client in the media.
"This is a free country," said Sheldon Sorosky, "and someone should be able to say whatever they want."
"This is a little mystifying," said Sam Adam Jr. "This is the first time I have ever heard of a law-enforcement official coming forward in court and saying, 'Judge, please shut the defendant up.' Usually it's the exact opposite.
"Why?" Adam Jr. added. "Because he's telling the truth" in insisting on his innocence.
Adam Jr. also pooh-poohed the notion that Blagojevich could taint the jury pool. "It was tainted from the beginning," he said, citing U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's news conference the day of Blagojevich's arrest last December and his comments that Abe Lincoln was rolling over in his grave. "The only thing you could possible do is get back to zero, try to make it even."
Adam Jr. said it was impossible to get Blagojevich to be quiet about his innocence, to the point where he fully expects the former governor to testify in the case next summer. "You try to get him not to go on the stand," Adam Jr. said.
The reality show - a competition to become "apprentice" to Donald Trump - will tape over the next weeks before being edited to air from March to May on WMAQ Channel 5. Blagojevich's trial is tentatively set to begin in June.