Acting with stunning speed, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals rejected former Governor Rod Blagojevich’s latest bid for freedom Friday, virtually guaranteeing he will serve the majority of his 14 year sentence.
The terse and unanimous ruling dismissed the arguments of Blagojevich’s attorneys that trial Judge James Zagel should have reduced the former governor’s prison term when he was re-sentenced on corruption charges last August.
“It’s not surprising, it was the same panel who heard the same arguments a few months ago, and came to the same conclusion,” said Kent College Law Professor Richard Kling. “All circuits give a great deal of deference to the trial judges unless the judges abuse their discretion or do something really bizarre.”
During the original 2011 sentencing, Judge James Zagel berated Blagojevich, saying he had "torn and disfigured" Illinois, including by seeking to trade an appointment to former President Barack Obama's old Senate seat for campaign cash. The 14-year sentence Zagel imposed was the longest in Illinois history for public corruption.
The 7th Circuit did toss five of 18 Blagojevich convictions in 2015 and ordered Zagel to resentence Blagojevich, though the appellate court left the decision up to the lower-court judge to cut time off the sentence. At the second sentencing in August, Zagel imposed the same 14-year sentence. That led to the appeal which was rejected today.
After lawyers argued before the court on Tuesday, Blagojevich’s wife Patti expressed hope.
"You know my husband is an eternal optimist,” the former First Lady told reporters. “His hopes are high that—and he continues to trust in the system that so far has let us down. But he believes that it’s got to come out right in the end.”
But it was not to be. In Friday’s written opinion, the three-judge panel rejected arguments made Tuesday that Zagel should have put greater weight on 100 letters from fellow inmates who described how Blagojevich taught history and served as a life coach to prisoners. The six-page ruling said that more relevant to his sentence was what Blagojevich did as governor before his 2008 arrest.
"Blagojevich's treatment of fellow inmates may show that outside of office he is an admirable person, but the court was entitled to impose punishment that reflects how Blagojevich behaved when he had a different menu of opportunities and to deter those who hold office today," the ruling says.
After his first trip to the appellate court, the judges had taken fully 18 months to render an opinion. This time, just three days, likely reflecting that the panel saw the decision as straightforward and that there was little disagreement among them. The one-time contestant on Donald Trump's ``Celebrity Apprentice'' could appeal, but the ex-governor's own attorneys said earlier this week that this was likely the end of the legal road.
A prosecutor underlined to the court Tuesday that Blagojevich has never admitted serious wrongdoing.
"There's nothing anywhere where the defendant says, "I apologize for putting my own personal interests ahead of the interests of the public I was charged with serving," Debra Bonamici said.
Blagojevich is serving his sentence at the Federal Correctional facility in Englewood, Colorado. He is scheduled for release in the spring of 2024.