Blagojevich Trial Continues With Ex Gov In High Spirits, Judge Narrows Jury Pool
Lawyers for Rod Blagojevich were unsuccessful Friday in their attempts to get the judge to dismiss a few prospective jurors who suggested during questioning that they had strong opinions about the case.
During the second day of jury selection in the federal corruption trial for the former governor and his brother, Rob Blagojevich, U.S. District Judge James Zagel ruled on whether 29 potential jurors who had been questioned the previous day should be dismissed "for cause" because of a financial or medical hardship, or because of a real or perceived inability to be fair and impartial.
Among the questions posed to them, the possible jurors were asked about how much they knew about the case and whether they could remain fair and impartial irrespective of anything they heard or saw in the media regarding the impeached governor.
Juror #125 (the potential jurors' names are being withheld) said he believed Rod Blagojevich was guilty, defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky said. But Zagel added that the juror also said he could judge the evidence without bias. "The fact that someone expresses an opinion does not in and of itself require their excusal," Zagel said. "I think he can and will base his decision on the evidence he hears in court."
Zagel made essentially the same ruling with respect to juror #124 who said in a questionnaire that she distrusted politicians and "it would not be fair for me to be a juror after watching TV."
"Those were her exact words," Sorosky said in asking that the juror be excused. "She can't be a fair and impartial juror." Zagel disagreed, perhaps speculating that the woman was trying to avoid jury service.
"I think the judge was fair and impartial," Rob Blagojevich said when asked about the rulings in the hallway outside of the courtroom at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse.
In all, 10 jurors were dismissed for cause. This does not mean the remaining 19 will be jurors. In a later phase of the jury selection process, lawyers for the prosecution and defense will be permitted to exclude a certain number of jurors for any reason at all, provided they do not show a pattern of racial discrimination. Under an earlier ruling by Zagel, prosecutors will be allowed to remove nine potential jurors and the defense can remove 13.
After making determinations about Thursday's pool of potential jurors, the judge began questioning 30 more jurors Friday morning. Of eight jurors questioned before the lunch break, most said they had heard about the case but didn't know too much about the details.
"I saw news blurbs about the impeachment," said a retired Navy commander who now works as a service operator. "...I didn't collect a lot of background reporting, if you will."
The Blagojevich brothers appeared to be in good spirits and sat in court taking notes during the questioning of potential jurors.
Blagojevich is accused of using his office for personal financial gain. He was charged with multiple felony counts, including wire fraud, conspiracy, extortion and racketeering. He is also accused of "trying to leverage his authority to appoint a United States Senator" to fill the vacancy left by President Barack Obama, according to the 2008 indictment.
Blagojevich has maintained a high profile since he was charged, appearing on several news and entertainment shows pronouncing his innocence.
Janan Hanna is a licensed attorney, a lecturer at Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism and a freelance writer.
WATCH Blagojevich praise Judge Zagel and slam prosecutors on Friday morning: