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Judge refuses to delay Blago corruption trial
By Ted Cox | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 3/17/2010 12:01 PM | Updated: 3/17/2010 2:38 PM

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Rod Blagojevich's request to delay his corruption trial beyond June 3 was rejected Wednesday by U.S. District Court Judge James Zagel.

Zagel said Blagojevich's lawyers would have "adequate time" to prepare his defense over the next two months, and he rejected their argument that the U.S. Supreme Court could alter the "honest services" law while the trial was in session as "a red herring."

Blagojevich did not appear at the hearing in Chicago.

Zagel said the jury would have two duties in the case: to determine the facts and rule on the law. He said the facts as presented in testimony would not be affected by any Supreme Court ruling, and that he would deliver his statement on how to apply the law - whatever the status of the "honest services" statute at that point - at the close of the trial.

"The evidence is what the evidence is," Zagel said. "First the facts, then the law."

Although Blagojevich's attorneys said they had only just received the prosecution's full discovery evidence March 1, Zagel said, "Two months is a lot of time when you're familiar basically with what the government has. ... I think there is an adequate time."

"We asked for a continuance, it was denied," said Blagojevich attorney Sam Adam Jr. afterward. "We're not going to whine about it. That's what the boss says, that's what the workers do."

"It's not a setback," agreed his colleague Sheldon Sorosky. "We will do the absolute best we can."

During the hearing, however, Sorosky said it was "silly" to go to trial with the Supreme Court preparing to rule on the "honest services" law - which basically insists that a public servant has an obligation to behave honestly at all times.

Adam added that it was "unfair" to go to trial with the law in flux, saying, "We have to prepare for what the law is, not what it might be or could be."

Federal prosecutors restructured the indictment against Blagojevich in February, shifting it more to charges of racketeering and away from "honest services" charges - which were instrumental in convicting corrupt former Illinois governors from George Ryan back to Otto Kerner.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar had argued that the cases before the Supreme Court refer to more slippery charges of conflict of interest and "do not deal at all with what's at the heart of this case ... bribery."

"The issue of this case is who did what when, and what was their state of mind when they did it," Zagel said, adding that gave certain advantages to the defense. "The defense has exclusive access to ... what was in the mind of the defendant," he said. "The government doesn't know what the defense might be."

Zagel also addressed Blagojevich waiving his right to attempt to suppress the secretly recorded government tapes that according to transcripts show him auctioning a U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder and offering political favors for campaign contributions. He made it clear there was no quid pro quo in Blagojevich waiving that right in exchange for the right to play any tape he wanted. Zagel said legal rules allow the government to play any tape that would seem to indicate the commitment of a crime, but that Blagojevich's tapes would be considered hearsay on his behalf - unless he took the stand in his own defense.

"Under appropriate circumstances, I'm not going to stop you" from playing tapes, he told defense attorneys, if they offered "exculpatory" evidence for Blagojevich's actions.

Both Sorosky and Adam said at this point there was "no doubt" Blagojevich would take the stand. "We're not laying down. We're not sitting down crying about this ruling or that ruling," Adam said. "We're going to get in there, we're going to fight, and at the end of the day we're going to end up winning. This is a 'Rocky' story - and 'Rocky II,' not 'Rocky I.'"

Adam predicted the defense would take every bit as long as the prosecution and that the trial would last five or six months - in part because of the tapes they'll be playing. "The more we play the tapes, the more you're going to see how innocent the man is," Adam said. "You're going to find out and say to yourself, 'Not only did we get rid of him, I'd vote for him again.' Well, you know, 2016, watch out."