One year and counting.
As of Saturday, that’s how long former governor Rod Blagojevich, his family and attorneys have been waiting for a decision from the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
“This opinion is going to have far reaching effects,” said Leonard Goodman, one of Blagojevich’s attorneys. “Not just for Rod and Patti, and their two daughters, but for any politician who has to go out and raise money.”
But why the wait? Goodman says he believes it’s simply because the Blagojevich case was so complicated, unfolding during two trials, with dozens of undercover recordings and labyrinthine charges. Others aren’t so sure.
“They want to put it out when it’s going to cause the least ruckus!” said Leonard Cavise, professor emeritus of law from DePaul University. He calls the former governor’s 14-year sentence “outrageous” and is convinced the appellate court is prepared to make a change.
“I think they’re going to reduce his sentence,” Cavise said. “And if you’re going to reduce his sentence, it’s a good idea to serve a little more time.”
The appeal rests on two key pillars: that Blagojevich’s behavior did not constitute a crime and that he was not allowed to present an adequate defense.
“Your ordinary political corruption case involves a politician putting money in his pocket, whether it’s taking money from his campaign fund or cash bribes or trips … jewelry,” Goodman said. “Rod never did any of that!”
Indeed, the most famous charge -- that Blagojevich hoped to “sell” the Barack Obama Senate seat -- actually rests in the eye of the beholder. And that is key to what the court will decide.
“You know, I can’t think of another politician who has been put in the dock for purely political acts,” Goodman said.
During the oral arguments before the court last December, Judge Frank Easterbrook pushed the prosecutor to explain how a political horse trade rose to the level of a crime. Specifically, he cited the example of California Governor Earl Warren, making a deal to deliver his support to Dwight Eisenhower in exchange for an appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Ironically, it was an argument Blagojevich himself had made during his second trial.
“Under the standard that Blagojevich was held to, Governor Warren should be in jail and so should Eisenhower,” Goodman said.
The bottom line, of course, is that many believe Blagojevich’s stiff 14-year sentence was intended as a message to other politicians not to even think about chicanery lest they join him behind bars. And now observers agree that whatever the Appellate court does, they will be sending a message as well.
“You know, this case is about politics,” Goodman said. “And every politician is going to look at what the Seventh Circuit does.”
Blagojevich himself recently moved from the low security Federal Correctional Institution in Englewood, Colorado, to an adjoining camp. That minimum security facility has more freedom of movement and is generally considered to be a bit more accommodating.
But it’s still prison. And unless he gets good news from the Appellate court, Illinois’ famous former governor is not scheduled to be released until 2024.