Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Expert Defense Lawyer Makes Predictions for Blagojevich Retrial

As round two of the Rod Blagojevich trial approached, I called one of the city’s most prominent criminal defense lawyers. I had published my conversations with him last summer, and reading his insights now confirms my trust in his instincts. Here’s his take on the second trial, which opens with jury selection today. This man has so many previous professional and personal ties to players in the case…

Rod BlagojevichAs round two of the Rod Blagojevich trial approached, I called one of the city’s most prominent criminal defense lawyers. I had published my conversations with him last summer (see here and here), and reading his insights now confirms my trust in his instincts—with the exception of his prediction that the government would retry the ex-gov’s brother, Robert Blagojevich.

This veteran attorney has so many previous professional and personal ties to players in the case that he insisted I not use his name. Here’s his take on the second trial, which opens with jury selection today.

Will Blago testify this round?
I’d be shocked. There’s too much out there—hundreds of tapes, talked on TV 47 times, wrote a book. Even the most amateurish lawyer can cross examine him and really hurt him.

Blago’s brother Rob, who did testify during round one, has been telling reporters that his brother should do likewise.
His brother is not a lawyer. The jury liked Rob—they saw him as a lieutenant colonel in the army, not a professional politician like his younger brother.

Robert has said that he might show up in the courtroom for part of the trial. Will that help Rod?
It’s better to have him there than not.

What will the prosecution be looking for in jurors?
Middle-aged men tend to be pro-prosecution. Remember at last summer’s trial the one holdout was a woman. I think the defense will look for African-Americans, especially women. Generally speaking, Blago thinks black people like him.

So should the prosecution try to keep African-American women off the jury? 
I think they should have in round one. It matters less now because Sam Adam Jr., the lead lawyer in the first trial, was half African-American. Now the defense team is two white men and one white woman.

Will either side call the big names that have attached to this case—for example Jesse Jackson, Jr. or Rahm Emanuel?
On the defense side, it depends on how panicked they are. How do you put an African-American on the jury and then attack Jackson? As for Rahm, he’ll eat the defense lawyers alive. He’s smart; they’re not.

Are you saying the defense lawyers, Sheldon Sorosky and Aaron Goldstein, are dumb?
Dumb is not the right word. They are extraordinarily inexperienced.

Will the defense suffer from the absence of the Sam Adam father-and-son team?
[Adam] Sr. is one of the smartest men I ever met, very bright and crafty. Jr. is not the greatest lawyer in the world, but he has such good instincts. He’s not a good lawyer, but he’s talented, and he’s so good with people that he doesn’t have to be a good lawyer. Nobody on either side this time is as good with juries as Sam Jr.

Will Judge Zagel be as tough on the defense as he was in round one?
Zagel threatened, but he never followed through. He is extraordinarily smart. He saw in the Adams a threat. No federal judge is going to allow anyone to run his courtroom. It’s the nature of being a federal judge. Adam [Jr.] tried to, and Zagel would let him go only so far. [The new defense lawyers] won’t run anyone’s court, so [Zagel] will be easier on Sorosky and his associates.

You told me last summer that Rod would serve five years on the one count on which he was convicted, but a maximum of six-and-a-half years no matter how many other counts he was convicted on. 
I think he’ll get six-and-a-half no matter how many more counts they get him on, but he could get more. Rod is incapable of saying he did anything wrong; because of his nonsense there is no way to cut a deal. If he had walked out of the courtroom last August, kept his mouth shut, he could have cut a deal for four to five years. Instead he responded with a tirade, and the Adams were worse than Blago. 

The government has streamlined its case to make it less boring and confusing to jurors. Should this help win convictions?
I don’t think they streamlined it enough. They should have dropped more of the counts. [There are now 20 counts; in the first trial Blago faced 24.]

The first trial lasted two and one half months. How long will this trial last?
Five to six weeks.

What will the outcome be?
He’ll be found guilty on most of the counts.

 

Photograph: Chicago Tribune

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