Former governor Rod Blagojevich got bad news Tuesday from the court which has been considering his appeal for the last 18 months. The three judges on the federal appeals court threw out only five of the Blagojevich’s convictions, and ordered that he stay in prison.
The former governor will be resentenced, but his outlook is uncertain.
“I’ve had an opportunity to look over the opinion, and it’s not justice in my view,” said Blagojevich attorney Leonard Goodman. “He never put a penny in his pocket.”
Belying the notoriety of the case, the majority of the court’s opinion was rendered in strict legalese.
"The convictions on Counts 5, 6, 21, 22 and 23 are vacated; the remaining convictions are affirmed," the opinion stated. "The sentence is vacated and remanded for retrial on the vacated counts."
Those five counts related to Blagojevich’s negotiations for a cabinet job which he hoped to snag in exchange for appointing Presidential-choice Valerie Jarrett to a vacant U.S. Senate seat. But in other areas, the court made clear the former governor’s convictions should remain intact.
“Blagojevich viewed the opportunity to appoint a new senator as a bonanza,” Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote in the 23-page opinion. “Blagojevich asks us to hold that the evidence is insufficient to convict him on any count. The argument is frivolous. The evidence, much of it from Blagojevich’s own mouth, is overwhelming.”
“We’ve waited a long time for this decision and we are very disappointed,” said the former governor’s wife Patti. “If there’s any silver lining for us, is that possibly this is a step in the right direction, to getting him home with us.”
That could be a long road. While the court ordered that Blagojevich be resentenced, they went out of their way to say they did not believe his existing 14-year sentence was unreasonable.
“It is not possible to call 168 months unlawfully high for Blagojevich’s crimes,” Easterbrook wrote. “But the district judge should consider on remand, whether it is the most appropriate sentence.”
Former Blagojevich lawyer Sam Adam, said he had to believe trial judge James Zagel would render a lower sentence.
“You have to reduce his sentence,” Adam said. “How could you say the 14-year sentence was right for all of them. Now you take five out and it’s still the same?”
“There’s just something about that that’s fundamentally unfair.”
The appellate court also took issue with Blagojevich’s argument that he should have been allowed to explain that his real plan was to offer the senate seat to Attorney General Lisa Madigan, in exchange for political cooperation from her father, House Speaker Michael Madigan. Easterbrook suggested that one apparent legal gambit did not negate possible shenanigans which were being plotted at the same time.
“A bank robber cannot show that on many other occasions he entered a bank without pulling a gun on a teller,” he wrote. “Nor can a teller charged with embezzlement show how often he made correct entries in the books.”
In 2009, Blagojevich was impeached from the governor's office after being charged with racketeering, bribery, wire fraud and attempted extortion, including the "sale" of Obama's Senate seat.
He was sentenced to prison and given a $20,000 fine in 2011 when he was convicted of 17 counts of corruption, including trying to sell now-President Barack Obama's Senate seat to the highest bidder. He had previously been convicted, in an earlier trial, of lying to the FBI.
Reached at his home in Nashville, Blagojevich’s brother Robert, said he was not hopeful Zagel would extend much mercy.
“I’m very cynical with regard to the whole system,” Blagojevich said. “I’m also jaundiced when it comes to the key players in this drama, especially Judge Zagel. So I’m not hopeful for Rod to get any measure of fairness from him.”
The elder Blagojevich was especially angry about comments the appellate judges made, blasting the former governor for involvement in a scheme to appoint Jesse Jackson Jr. to the senate seat in exchange for $1.5 million in campaign contributions.
“That is just flat out not true,” Blagojevich said, noting that as his brother’s chief campaign fundraiser, it was he who had been approached by Jackson’s emissaries with the $1.5 million offer.
“That is an altered reality to what I know and what I experienced,” he said. “That is just flat out wrong!”
Attorney Lauren Kaeseberg, who worked on the Blagojevich appeal and represented him at both trials, said she had to remain hopeful.
“Knowing him as a person, I’m sure he also sees some hope and is optimistic that he’ll be with his family again,” Kaeseberg said. “You know it pains him greatly to be missing out each day with his daughters.”
Her co-counsel Goodman, suggested that the decision defied common sense.
“I think most people agree the sentence is incredibly harsh for a case that’s all about politics,” Goodman said. “Never put a penny in his pocket. It’s all politics!”