In what many observers believe amounts to a legal Hail Mary, lawyers for former governor Rod Blagojevich appeared this morning before judges of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, asking that Blagojevich be given a new trial.
"It’s always difficult to come back here," the former governor’s wife, Patti, told reporters in the lobby of the Dirksen Federal Building. "But we are grateful for another opportunity to address the court."
The Blagojevich legal team argued that in re-sentencing the former governor last year, Judge James Zagel failed to take into account what they maintain were flawed jury instructions, and evidence of Blagojevich's substantial rehabilitation in prison---documented in scores of letters from his fellow inmates.
"The jury was told to reject his defense based on conduct that now everyone agrees was lawful, which was his attempt to make a political deal to be on Barack Obama’s cabinet," attorney Leonard Goodman said after Tuesday’s hearing. "The jury was told that if he did that, it must reject his defense as to every single count."
Stepping into the giant wood paneled courtroom of the Seventh Circuit, the Blagojevich legal team faced the same three judges who heard his previous appeal.
"He is entitled to a new trial," attorney Leonard Goodman told the court. "As much as no one in this courtroom would like to see it, he is entitled to a third trial!"
But prosecutors countered that Blagojevich has still not accepted responsibility for his crimes, and that no legal errors were made in his previous trial, his second on the sensational charges which became the fodder of front pages and late night talk shows in the fall of 2008.
"This was explicit in every possible way that was necessary," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Debra Bonamici. "The defendant has been operating on a basis of plausible deniability."
Blagojevich is serving a 14-year sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Englewood, Colorado. His sentence is by far, the longest faced by any governor convicted on federal corruption charges.
By contrast, former Illinois governor George Ryan drew only a six and a half year term. And former congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., who admitted looting his campaign fund of three quarters of a million dollars, was sentenced to two and a half years.
No evidence was presented at Blagojevich’s trial that he ever received any money for his alleged crimes.
"It’s ironic that the government is saying that he’s not truly remorseful," Goodman said. "I’d like to see some of that remorse from the government, for putting him through that and putting his family through that!”
Asked how the former governor is holding up, Patti Blagojevich insisted that he still believes in the laws which put him in prison.
"You know, my husband is an eternal optimist," she said. "He’s always hoping that this is going to come out the way that it needs to come out."
Rod Blagojevich does have one unusual path to freedom: a potential commutation from President Trump, who was his host on NBC’s "The Apprentice" in 2010. But his wife suggested that is not the family’s current focus.
"A thousand times my family would prefer that win at the appellate court than that we get some kind of pardon,” she said. "We want justice to be done, and my girls want to be able to hold their heads high, knowing that their father is not a criminal."
Patti Blagojevich said the human toll on the former governor’s daughters has been "very harsh."
“They miss their father,” she said. "He’s been gone over five years now."
The former first lady deflected a question about how she had held up during that same five years.
"I just keep it together for everybody else," she said. "That’s what I do."