CHICAGO (AP) – Imprisoned former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Friday gets what’s likely his last chance to win his freedom as a three-judge federal panel hears oral arguments in his appeal.
A lawyer for the disgraced Illinois Democrat steps before the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago to ask that it toss Blagojevich’s corruption convictions.
Short of that, Blagojevich’s defense team hopes the court will at least agree to reduce his 14-year prison term _ one of the longest sentences ever imposed for political corruption in a state where four of the last seven governors ended up in prison.
FBI agents arrested then-Gov. Blagojevich five years ago this week, on Dec. 9, 2008. A jury convicted him of wide-ranging charges in 2011, including for trying to profit from his power to name someone to President Barack Obama’s old U.S. Senate seat.
The onetime contestant on NBC’s “Apprentice” won’t be at Friday’s hearing in Chicago. He remains behind bars a thousand miles away, now into his second year inside a Colorado prison.
The panel isn’t expected to issue a ruling on Blagojevich’s appeal for at least several weeks. If it goes against him, he could try to appeal to the nation’s highest court, though there’s no guarantee the Supreme Court would even agree to hear his case.
Friday’s arguments are an opportunity for judges to fire questions at the defense and prosecution. They’ve already seen the 100-page appeal defense lawyers filed in July and the government’s 169-page response, which was filed last month.
Blagojevich’s appeal includes a laundry list of alleged errors by trial Judge James Zagel. It says he allowed one juror _ referred to only as Juror No. 174 _ to remain on the panel during the second and decisive trial, even after he said about Blagojevich during jury selection, “I just figured him, possibly, to be guilty.”
The most novel argument in the appeal is that Blagojevich’s bid to secure an ambassadorship or some other high-paying job for himself in exchange for an appointment to the Senate seat was far from being a crime; it was part of run-of-the-mill “political horse-trading.”
In their November filing, prosecutors balked at the notion that what Blagojevich did was commonplace, writing that, “A public official who sells his office engages in crime, not politics.”
They also addressed the allegedly biased juror. A partially formed opinion, they noted, isn’t in itself grounds for booting someone from a jury, provide would-be jurors assure a judge they’ll decide a verdict based only on evidence at trial. Juror No. 174 gave that assurance.
Blagojevich’s appeal would seem to face long odds.
Appellate judges at the 7th Circuit have a reputation for rarely quashing convictions unless a lower court’s errors are egregious. According to 2012 court statistics, its judges reversed lower court findings in only around 15 percent of appeals.
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