Tags: US | Blagojevich | Trial

Blagojevich Prosecutors Done Quicker Than Expected

Wednesday, 14 Jul 2010 06:54 AM

 

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Prosecutors at Rod Blagojevich's corruption trial wheeled three carts crammed with documents into court each day, making it easy to believe estimates that it could take more than two months to present their case to jurors.

Instead, it took them just five weeks despite having dozens of possible witnesses and hundreds of wiretap recordings at their disposal. They were able to rest their case Tuesday in large part because they didn't call several potential key figures, including convicted political fixer Tony Rezko, whose testimony might just have easily hurt prosecutors as help them.

While prosecutors did not stop to speak to reporters as they left the courthouse, legal observers say it's not uncommon for prosecutors to err on the side of overestimating the amount of time they'll need.

"If you tell a judge, it's going to take a month to present your case and it takes two — the judge is going to be pissed off," said Michael Helfand, a Chicago attorney with no connection to the Blagojevich case.

Defense attorneys have a different explanation: Prosecutors simply didn't have sheer volume of evidence they once suggested they had.

Blagojevich attorney Sam Adam Sr. harkened back to remarks by U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald following Blagojevich's arrest two years ago that the corruption the then-governor participated in would make another Illinois politician, President Abraham Lincoln, "roll over in his grave."

"As far as I know — and we checked with the cemetery — Lincoln is still intact," he said.

But Helfand says attorneys sometimes drop witnesses based on the strength of those who took the stand earlier. So, the speed with which prosecutors in the Blagojevich case finished could indicate confidence, he said, rather than a lack of evidence.

Blagojevich, 53, has pleaded not guilty to 24 counts that include scheming to sell or trade President Barack Obama's former Senate seat and plotting to launch a racketeering operation in the governor's office.

The most notable witnesses prosecutors did not call were one-time Blagojevich fundraisers Rezko and Stuart Levine.

Levine admitted scheming to launch a $7 million kickback scheme and Rezko was convicted by a jury in the same case. In addition, Levine has admitted that for years he attended marathon drug parties.

While prosecutors portrayed both as important cogs in Blagojevich's alleged systematic bid to make money from his actions as governor, they never indicated they gave serious thought to asking either to testify.

But the two have been mentioned enough that some attorneys think Blagojevich's defense team will ask Judge James Zagel for a missing-witness instruction in which it's suggested to the jury that whatever Rezko or Levine would have said on the stand would have hurt the prosecution's case.

In his opening arguments, defense attorney Sam Adam Jr. portrayed Rezko as a sinister figure pulling strings in the shadows and hoodwinking the then-governor. He told reporters Tuesday he also has no intention of calling Rezko.

When Zagel ruled last month that he would not force prosecutors or defense attorneys to call Rezko, he said it was because Rezko is the kind of witness whose testimony might backfire.

That no-nonsense presiding judge is another reason for the quicker-than-expected pace of the trial. Zagel has kept delays to a minimum and pushed attorneys along when they seemed to become stuck on a line of questioning.

For example, when Blagojevich attorney Aaron Goldstein repeatedly asked one witness the same question during cross examination on Monday, an exasperated Zagel snapped: "You can ask one more (question) and then you can sit down."

Zagel also has generally dealt quickly with objections, with little or no explanation.

The government's case has relied heavily on wiretap recordings, with prosecutors showing Blagojevich spewed a river of profanity while lavishing money on his wardrobe and ducking his job as governor.

Jurors heard Blagojevich on several tapes sounding desperate to land a well-paying job, often turning discussions about potential senate seat candidates into questions about what he could get out of it personally.

Former Blagojevich chief of staff John Harris told jurors the governor told him he had sent word to Obama in November 2008 through a labor union leader that he would name Obama family friend Valerie Jarrett to the Senate seat if the new president would name him secretary of health and human services in the Obama administration.

Blagojevich later fumed on another recording, cursing Obama and his staff for apparently rebuffing his overtures.

Blagojevich's brother, Nashville, Tenn., businessman Robert Blagojevich, has pleaded not guilty to just five counts, including taking part in the alleged Senate seat and plotting to shake down businessmen for campaign funds.

Robert Blagojevich's attorneys rarely took part in cross-examination, only a few times asking witnesses to confirm that their client wasn't sitting in on a meeting or taking part in a phone call. Their lack of participation in proceedings also allowed prosecutors to get their witnesses off the stand faster.

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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