Carol Felsenthal
On politics

The Prosecutors’ Biggest Blunder in the Blago Case

The key mistake in the government’s case against Rod Blagojevich happened right at the start of the trial, during jury selection, with the choice of a juror who ultimately became the sole vote siding with the ex-gov on key counts of the indictment. Sources say the holdout juror, an African-American retired state worker who had worked for the Illinois Department of Public Health, should have been dismissed…

The key mistake in the government’s case against Rod Blagojevich happened right at the start of the trial, during jury selection, with the choice of a juror who ultimately became the sole vote siding with the ex-gov on key counts of the indictment.

Sources say the holdout juror, an African-American retired state worker who had worked for the Illinois Department of Public Health, should have been dismissed during the jury selection phase, given her background and occupation. One longtime policy wonk who works for a nonprofit in the area of maternal and child health said that, to some who work with (and for) the poor, Blago was a hero—the man who championed legislation to extend health care to all children and their parents. (Blago’s defense lawyer, Sam Adam Jr., made sure to point out, with his voice breaking, how his prematurely-born daughter benefited from All Kids.)

Furthermore, Blago won fans for appointing many African-American women to senior positions in his administration and in state agencies.

Former assistant U.S. Attorney James Montana, now a defense lawyer and partner at Vedder Price, said prosecutors missed these cues at the start of the trial. Had he been on the prosecution team, Montana told me, “I would have been familiar with things that Blagojevich did as governor and asked myself whether or not that particular juror might be favorably inclined toward him because of that.”

He added that government lawyers didn’t even need to show cause to keep the juror from being seated—a preemptory challenge would have sufficed.

One juror summed it up for Chicago Tribune: “If it wasn’t for that one lady, we’d have had him convicted on probably 80 percent of [the indictment].”

Share

comments
4 years ago
Posted by Colonel

You and Jim Montana are totally correct on the juror, but to not call Tony Rezko, Levine, Celinni and Rahm Emmanual was stupidity at the level of a stone. Being politiclaly correct and not wanting to offend anyone is one thing, blowing the trial of an obvious crook... Fitzgerald has become just as political as so many of the politically ambitious follks who came before him.

4 years ago
Posted by henry k

Carol, an unusually thoughtful and probing journalist, must have been pressured by her editors to come out with a quick and provative story since this piece is far below the quality of her other work. Nothing is easier and less worthy of consideration than someone knowing nothing about the problems faced by a lawyer at the time of a trial, criticizing their work after a bad outcome is known. I don't remember anyone betting their reputation at the time that this decision would lead to a loss. After the fact critcism in a forum where the lawyer being critricized has no chance to respond, should be below the standards of a serious journalist. To judge this action, or inaction, as a mistake, without even knowing if the woman in question was the notorious hold out, is no more than a cheap shot designed to fill emply space with ink. Do we know if the prosecutors' challenges were running out? If the prosecution accepted her to avoid offending other jurors or giving the defense a point to use on appeal? If there were other prospective jurors who they feared would have been worse? If the prosecution's research indicateda prediction different from that of the Monday morning quarterbacks who watched from their armchairs and decided that if they had thrown the ball there would have been no interception. The content of this article is about as intellectually stimulating as the many times I heard my father complain that in 1944 he had the chance to buy ocean front property in Miami Beach for $1 per front foot.

4 years ago
Posted by JimBuckner

Are you advocating no African-American women on the jury or would you prefer no African-Americans period since a male may be influenced by his African-American wife? Interesting how all of the geniuses are showing up now. Why didn't you say this 10 weeks ago. You even had plenty of time to make this prediction during the many days of jury deliberation.

4 years ago
Posted by SKEPTICAL

the identities of the jurors was kept under wraps by the court and didn't begin to be revealed until after the trial, when some of the jorors began to speak to the press. Jimbuckner is totally off base.

Submit your comment