Thursday, June 17, 2010

Who has the nerve to tell Rod Blagojevich to quiet down at the courthouse?

I don’t know who I feel sorry for more – U.S. District Judge James Zagel, or some law school students who are going to get more than they bargained for from their summer internship.

Zagel is the federal judge presiding over the government corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, and federal prosecutors are demanding that they give them all the more authority to ensure that their view of the former governor is the one that prevails.

IT SEEMS THAT prosecutors can’t stand the fact that Blagojevich likes to talk, and is more than willing to make statements to the television cameras that offer up his view of what is happening on a daily basis during his trial.

Insofar as the TV types are concerned, of course they’re going to use the footage because it is about the only video they get. It’s not like they can take the cameras into the courtroom and get pictures of the actual trial.

But it means that after a broadcaster does his standup bit to summarize what was said in that day’s testimony, television viewers are getting to see Blagojevich as a prominent player. Perhaps even more prominent than the prosecution.

So they want a “gag order.” Literally, they want for Zagel to issue an order that would prevent Blagojevich from saying a word about his case. His attorneys also would be barred from speaking. We’d have to rely on the prosecutorial spin for any sense of what was happening in the courtroom.

I FEEL SORRY for Zagel because, as much as I am sure he is tempted to issue the order, he has to realize he will come off looking like a buffoon if it is granted. Maybe not as bad as one-time U.S. District Judge Julius Hoffman did when he ordered defendant Bobby Seale bound and gagged in his chair to keep him quiet.

But you know someone will want to make the comparison.

Personally, I don’t worry about Blagojevich’s trial “commentary” because I think people of sense will see it for the blowhard rhetoric that it truly is. If anything, I can’t help but think that Milorod is digging himself into a deeper and deeper hole everytime he speaks.

He is building up the resentment of a segment of the population that truly wants him to have to serve a lengthy prison term (preferably in a maximum-security facility), instead of the 12 to 18 months of incarceration that many government corruption convictees wind up doing.

IF HE IS found “guilty,” there will be so many people disgusted with the Blagojevich name that they will want him to be taken down hard.

So I say, let him talk.

If the jurors truly are as isolated as Judge Zagel wants them to be, they won’t hear any of this – or be impacted by it in any way. If they are influenced, then the problem is a tainted jury, not Blagojevich himself.

Not that I am surprised in any way to learn that federal prosecutors want Blagojevich to say nothing, while they pile on their many bits of evidence (documents and audio are now being put on the portion of the Justice Department website that provides information about the U.S. attorney for Northern Illinois).

HAVING COVERED FEDERAL trials as a reporter-type throughout the years, I realize that some prosecutors really do believe that any defendant who does anything other than immediately plead guilty and beg for the maximum penalty possible is somehow guilty of perjury. They really do believe the deck should be stacked completely in their favor.

The extent to which they will tolerate eccentricity is a case like one-time outfit guy Joey Lombardo – who gave us that classic mob photo of his face covered with a Chicago Sun-Times that had an eyehole cut into it so he could see forward.

But I honestly believe that federal prosecutors brought much of this circus atmosphere on themselves when they initially indicted Blagojevich with circus-stunt atmospherics. Having the U.S. attorney himself declare that Abraham Lincoln was “rolling over” in his grave was virtually an engraved invitation to Blagojevich to try to out-quip the prosecution.

I was glad to learn Wednesday that Zagel did not immediately give in to the request for a gag order, although I’m not sure exactly what constitutes the “lawyerly agreement” that he wants prosecutors and defense attorneys to reach about what can be said outside the courtroom – which in theory is supposed to be beyond the control of the judge.

BUT WITHIN THAT courtroom will be law school students who thought they were signing up for an internship with Illinois government, and a chance to work a few months for free for the staff of Gov. Pat Quinn. What they get to do is traipse down to the Dirksen Building on a daily basis, and report back their first-hand observations of the Blagojevich trial to the governor’s legal staff.

I find the governor’s official explanation somewhat cute that this is a worthwhile experience for future lawyers in that they are getting to observe a trial. Of course, so much of what they are seeing with regards to Milorod is so irrelevant to the way the judicial system typically works.

I’d hate to think that Pat Quinn is helping to contribute to the mental corruption of future attorneys by exposing them to Blagojevich. That alone might be reason enough to hope that Scott Lee Cohen can get his act together this week and file valid nominating petitions to run for governor.

Then again, that idea might be a longer shot than the concept of Blagojevich actually keeping quiet for any serious length of time.


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