A judge told Rod Blagojevich on Wednesday that he won't waste the jury's time at former governor's corruption trial by playing secretly made FBI tapes if he determines that those tapes are irrelevant.
U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel said that he might allow Blagojevich and his attorneys to play some of the secret recordings at his trial, but that "the only person who can admit them is me."
"I will not allow the time of the jurors to be consumed" with listening to irrelevant tapes, Zagel told attorneys at a hearing in the case.
Blagojevich has been lobbying to have all the hundreds of hours of tapes played for jurors, not just portions the government plans to use to build its case. The former governor says jurors will see he's done nothing wrong if they're allowed to hear all of the tapes.
After the hearing, Blagojevich said he was "very relieved" his defense team might be allowed to have some of the recordings played.
"Judge Zagel appears to be a very fair man, a very thoughtful man," he said.
Zagel warned Blagojevich Wednesday that he expected him to abide by rules of fair play during the trial.
Blagojevich staged a news conference Tuesday during which he ranted about the government's handling of his case, calling prosecutors "cowards and liars," saying they had "hit below the belt" by bringing his wife into the case and challenging U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald to show up to Wednesday's hearing "if he is man enough." He did not field questions afterward.
Fitzgerald did not attend Wednesday's hearing, but the three assistant U.S. attorneys assigned to try the case were there.
"I will not allow the legal equivalent of a head butt," Zagel said, playing off Blagojevich's boxing reference. "I will not allow rules violations by either party."
Earlier, Zagel turned down a request from Blagojevich's brother, businessman Robert Blagojevich, to be tried separately.
Robert Blagojevich's lawyer, Michael E. Ettinger, had argued that the evidence against the former governor could "spill over" and bias jurors against his client.
But Zagel said it was more likely that focusing the blame on the former governor and not his brother would actually work to the advantage of Robert Blagojevich.
Rod Blagojevich is charged with scheming to use his power as governor to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat by selling or trading President Obama's former seat and illegally pressuring potential donors for campaign contributions. His brother has been charged with helping him.
Both men have pleaded not guilty and denied wrongdoing. The trial is scheduled to start June 3.
Prosecutors allege that Rod Blagojevich's wife, Patti, was paid tens of thousands of dollars for work she didn't perform by a campaign fundraiser who was later convicted of bribery and other charges. Patti Blagojevich has not been charged.
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