Rod Blagojevich is returning to Illinois.
At least he will if he chooses to do so. On Wednesday, Federal Judge James Zagel set June 30th as the date for the former governor’s re-sentencing on corruption charges. It is widely expected that Blagojevich will appear before Zagel, hoping for a reduction in sentence.
Zagel’s order comes just two days after the United States Supreme Court declined to hear Blagojevich’s case.
The former governor’s resentencing was ordered by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals last summer, when they threw out five of the 18 counts on which Blagojevich had been convicted. Those counts dealt directly with his alleged efforts to swap the appointment of Valerie Jarrett to the Barack Obama senate seat, in exchange for position in the new President’s cabinet. As expected, earlier Wednesday, prosecutors informed the judge they would not seek to re-try the former governor on the overturned counts.
“First of all, the central allegations, really the most sensational allegations, that he tried to make this illegal deal with Barack Obama, those are gone,” appellate attorney Leonard Goodman said Monday, after learning the Supreme Court had turned down Blagojevich’s appeal. “The government says those were not a crime.”
While that’s true, the re-sentencing will come at the hands of the very judge who sent Blagojevich to prison in the first place. And Zagel has great latitude, especially since the Seventh Circuit, in its appellate opinion, said it did not believe the former governor’s 14 year sentence was unreasonable.
Writing for the court, Judge Frank Easterbrook noted that Blagojevich’s sentencing range had been calculated from 30 years to life imprisonment, but that he had received only 168 months.
“Instead of expressing relief, Blagojevich maintains that the sentence is too high,” Easterbrook noted. “The district judge did not err.”
Indeed, Easterbrook went out of his way to note that in sentencing Blagojevich, Zagel had actually cut the former governor several breaks, including a reduction for accepting responsibility, “even though he pleaded not guilty, denied culpability at two lengthy trials, and even now contends that the evidence is insufficient on every count and that he should have been acquitted across the board.”
“That’s the antithesis of accepting responsibility,” Easterbrook exclaimed, saying that when the upcoming re-sentencing occurs, “the prosecutor…is entitled to defend the actual sentence of 168 months, and to ask for its re-imposition.”
“I think the case is very different,” Goodman insisted. “And I think the judge looks at the person and the case that’s before him.”
Ironically, Blagojevich could have another shot at a Supreme Court appeal. The court gave no reason for denying his case, and the rejection could have been as simple as an opinion that he had not exhausted all of his options at the trial court level.
Depending on his outcome before Zagel, that means he could appeal that sentence to the high court again.
When Blagojevich’s re-sentencing does happen, he will have the right to be present, and to address the court. It will be the first time the outside world has seen or heard from the former governor, since he surrendered to prison four years ago.
“He will be here for sentencing, as his right is, and he should be here for sentencing,” former defense lawyer Sam Adam Jr. said. “He should have to face the judge and the judge should have to give a sentence out to him personally.”