Spending the summer at a federal court house may not be your idea of a good time.
But I must tell you, it grows on you. And I wouldn't have missed this one for the world. Officially I am just reporter No. 9. That designation is on a little laminated card which gets me into the courtroom. Once there, all of us "laminatees" sit on the left side. That's the side occupied by the prosecution, and often we sometimes have trouble actually seeing the witnesses. (Prosecutors like to stand right next to the jury box as they rapid-fire their questions, and there is a line of sight issue). But we do have a great view of the guest of honor.
If you're still reading, you're probably screaming at this point, "We don't want to hear about YOU! We want to hear about...HIM!"
OK. He, of course is former governor Rod R. Blagojevich, formerly of the tollway signs, now a national bobblehead who moonlights, along with his brother, as a defendant in this trial. Every day he arrives at the curb of 219 S. Dearborn like a Bulls player who has just been introduced in the midst of that Alan Parsons-and-laser-thing at the United Center. He shakes hands with strangers. He high fives. He hams it up at the metal detector. He gives a jaunty wave to the reporters and camera crews, as if to say, "I've got to go do this thing upstairs, but I'll catch you guys on the flip-trip!"
Which he usually does.
Upstairs, the former governor frequently works the line of spectators who have arrived early to take a number for one of the public seats in the courtroom. "Thank you for coming," he'll say. "God bless you. We're fighting to get the truth out."
Then he enters the courtroom, where you'd swear he is attending a lecture on the merits of his beloved Elvis, not fighting for his freedom. The governor sits at a long table with his attorneys, his wife Patti ensconced in the front pew just a few feet away.
Patti's slated to be a defense witness and she has to leave the courtroom whenever testimony about things like her alleged ghost jobs with Tony Rezko come up. But other than that she is quite pleasant.
"STOP IT! We want to hear about the tapes!"
OK. The tapes are played by prosecutors while witnesses are on the stand and those witnesses are usually one of the participants in the conversation. Then, in an exercise which is similar to watching snow melt, (but duller), prosecutors go back through those tapes with the witness, line-by-bleepin' line.
"Now when defendant Blagojevich told you, 'I want to be ambassador to India or I'll appoint Amy's HAMSTER to the Senate seat!', what did you understand him to mean?"
You'd be embarrassed to hear your private rants played for the world. But hey, you are not Rod Blagojevich! He sits with his lawyers, listening to the tapes as if it's someone else he hears scheming to shake down the horse racing industry (allegedly). Mr. Blagojevich can endure an excruciating exposure of one of his most embarrassing tirades, and then glad-hand spectators at the next recess.
"Thanks for coming! We're gonna win!"
A little known fact about Rod Blagojevich: he has a photographic memory. If he meets you once, he will remember your name. If you mentioned where you grew up, your parish or your high school, he will remember those too. He also has a deep knowledge of the arcania of American history. Ask him who Millard Fillmore's Secretary of War was, and he'll know.
And yes, he can be a lot of fun to be around.
At day's end, as those of us in TV are scrambling to get spots ready for 6 o'clock, it's time for the Great Departure. Every day the cameras line up along barricades outside, and every day, the ex-governor and his wife emerge, escorted by Marshal's personnel. Once outdoors, he poses for every single photo request. He signs everything which is placed in his hand. And yes, there are people there with cell phone cameras and outstretched pens every afternoon.
A few sage comments about victory, and the truth, and "I'll prove it when I take the stand!" And then he's into a waiting car and on his way, grinning for the cameras until he disappears from sight.
Now, keep in mind, what I've just described happens every single day. Groundhog Day, Federal style.
Chicago has been the site of some downright famous trials. Leopold and Loeb, and the Haymarket defendants were tried in celebrated proceedings at the Criminal Court. Al Capone's Federal tax trial took place across the street from the present Dirksen Building. The infamous Chicago-7 conspiracy trial took place in the very building where Rod Blagojevich is being tried now (as was his predecessor George Ryan). As was former Attorney General Bill Scott. And countless mobsters. And about a zillion aldermen.
This case will take its place right along with all of those. This is bleepin' history!
Lost summer? I wouldn't trade it for anything!