In what could be a boon for the Blagojevich defense, a surprising number of jury candidates interviewed at the Dirksen Federal Building today said they know almost nothing about the well-publicized tribulations of Illinois' former governor.
"Not really," said one candidate when asked if she was familiar with the case. "Just what I heard here."
One other woman was almost apologetic. "I really don't really listen to news," she said. "It's not a legal requirement," Judge James Zagel assured her.
A third candidate, a daycare worker with bright red hair, said she never reads or watches news, never searches for news on the Internet, and has not heard or read anything about the former governor's troubles.
Such candidates will likely intrigue the Blagojevich defense, which is seeking both jurors who have no preconceived notions or jurors who were exposed to Blagojevich's near-ubiquitous media appearances over the last several months.
Candidates who had heard of Blago outnumbered those who hadn't, however.
The first potential juror questioned today was a retired bank chairman, waiting to begin a regimen of chemotherapy. She told the judge she has opinions about the case, and that her opinions usually prove to be true.
"I don't think I could divorce myself from my gut feelings but I would try very hard to do so," she said.
Still other jurors said they could be fair, and even expressed positive feelings about politicians.
Juror #163 was an African-American woman who works for a textbook company and said she could be fair. Number 164 was a white graduate student who was headed to a final exam after court. She once worked for the Illinois Comptroller's office, and said she had a generally positive view of politicians.
Number 166, a black female described a grueling work schedule where she is employed as a social worker and holds three other part time jobs. Number 167 was a wildly enthusiastic state employee who declared to everyone in the room, "It's a pleasure to be here!"
Judge Zagel wants opening arguments to begin Tuesday.
As is his custom, Judge Zagel gave the potential jurors a short speech this morning about the importance of jury duty.
"The American colonists went to courts where everything was decided by the king's judges," Zagel said. "No other nation entrusts as much to juries as this one does."
While the minimum amount of approved jurors is 40, Judge Zagel has said he is going to take a few extra because, in his experience, selected jurors always end up remembering a pressing engagement at the last minute.
Throughout the morning Blagojevich, dressed in a navy blue suit and dark grey tie, sat at a table with five lawyers and a paralegal. Robert Blagojevich sat at a different table with his lawyers.
The two brothers did not interact.