It’s judgment day for Rod Blagojevich.
This morning, federal prosecutors will make their final case for a stiff sentence. Then, the former governor will step into the well of the cavernous ceremonial courtroom at the Dirksen Federal Building. And he will make his final plea, directly to the judge who controls his fate.
“I don’t think he can help himself, unless he comes in with the notion, ‘I was terrible, I did all these things they attributed, yes I knew’,” said Kent College Law Professor Richard Kling. “That’s what Judge Zagel seems to be looking for.”
Indeed, on Monday, Zagel declared that he believed Blagojevich had lied on the witness stand when he said during his trial that he was fully prepared to appoint Lisa Madigan to the Barack Obama senate seat, thwarted in his efforts when he was arrested by the FBI.
“I don’t think there was any other deal on the table," said Zagel, who said he was convinced, after hearing the evidence, that Jesse Jackson Jr. was Blagojevich’s number one pick for the seat.
Defense lawyers made one last emotional plea to the judge Monday, reading letters from Blagojevich’s wife and daughter.
“Your honor, with the life of my husband and the childhood of my daughters in your hands, be merciful,” Patti Blagojevich said in her letter to the judge.
Daughter Amy added, “I need my father. I need him there for my high school graduation. I need him when my heart gets broken.”
For the first time, Blagojevich’s lawyers admitted that their client broke the law. Speaking of the former governor’s efforts to secure a job in exchange for appointing Valerie Jarrett to the Senate seat, attorney Sheldon Sorosky agreed that Blagojevich had stepped over the line.
“He asked for a job in return,” Sorosky said. “We accept that’s a crime, and he should not have done it.” But Sorosky argued the crime did not merit the 15- to 20-year sentence prosecutors were seeking.
Conceding that Blagojevich had expressed deep interest in the fundraising offers from Congressman Jackson, Sorosky questioned the characterization which had taken on a life of its own since the scandal’s first day.
“He’s asking for a contribution here, and that’s wrong, and he’s guilty,” Sorosky said. “But I don’t know that that’s anywhere near selling a Senate seat!”
Earlier, Zagel flatly rejected suggestions from the defense that Blagojevich had been manipulated and duped by an unscrupulous staff.
“I don’t think he was an easy man to stop,” Zagel said. “He was not a supplicant!”
“It is absurd to contend that his staff and advisors would have devised schemes that would benefit only him,” Zagel said, suggesting that Blagojevich had immense power which his lawyers had tried to minimize.
“The governor had the power to inflict penalties on those who did not pay.”
When another defense attorney attempted to describe how badly Blagojevich was needed at home, Zagel cut her off.
“Why is this extraordinary?” the judge asked. “He would be roughly in the same position as any other father who was always there for their children.” Prosecutors have indicated they are sympathetic to the family’s future but said Blagojevich had essentially caused their problems himself.
At one point, Zagel seemed to telegraph his intentions, quoting a fellow judge in the Chicago district as saying, “The crime of corruption can be deterred by significant penalties.”
“We know it will occur again,” Zagel said, of the seemingly endless cycle of political corruption in Illinois. “The policy of sentencing is to make it occur less!”
Still, attorney Carolyn Gurland pleaded with the judge to consider the former governor’s transgressions, and the heavy sentence he faced.
“He would be the most severely punished political corruption defendant in the United States.”