Blago Judge Tightens Leash - NBC Chicago
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Blago Judge Tightens Leash



    The judge in the Rod Blagojevich corruption case has issued a series of rulings, warning defense lawyers not to make suggestions to the jury that the former governor's alleged wrongdoing was simply "politics as usual," and not to mention tapes they wish they could have played.

    "The jury is not allowed to speculate on evidence it has not heard," Judge James Zagel warns in a five page opinion filed Thursday evening. "Nor is it to decide whether a trial has been legally fair to either side."

    Zagel advised lawyers that an argument consisting of, "We would win this case if only the jury could hear the case we think should have been heard," would have doubtful value for the former governor's defense.

    Blagojevich's attorneys have repeatedly said the jury should hear all of the hundreds of undercover recordings made on his telephones and in his campaign office. The judge declared in his opinion that telling the jury there were tapes which should have been played would be "just plain lawless."

    "Neither side may suggest, even in the most oblique way, that it possesses favorable evidence that the Court excluded," he said.

    Likewise, Zagel said he would allow little latitude if the defense intends to present testimony of Blagojevich's good works.

    "Even the most committed criminals obey the law most of the time," Zagel said. "Criminals donate to community activities, run into burning buildings to save families and stop their partners in crime from doing worse things. That a defendant has led an exemplary life before and after he is charged with stealing his first million dollars may be relevant at a sentencing hearing. It is not relevant on the question of whether his guilt has been proven."

    Zagel said it would not be proper to present evidence regarding the death of former Blagojevich aide Chris Kelly, who committed suicide. He also said lawyers should not raise the issue of the former governor's impeachment.

    "Defendant's removal from office is not germaine to evidence or argument," he said. "Determinations made in a removal proceeding must be given no weight in a criminal trial."

    The judge said that any effort to tell the jury that the governor's potential crimes were simply "politics as usual," would in essence, be inviting the jury to break the law themselves.

    "Individuals are obliged to follow the law, and not an illegal custom or practice," Zagel declared in his ruling. "Laws are often enacted, just for the purpose of ending toxic customs and practices."

    The Blagojevich trial is scheduled to begin June 3.