Rod Blagojevich, the jailed former Illinois Governor who once commanded record pluralities in state elections and even envisioned himself as Presidential timber, saw his longshot-bid for freedom reduced to a “rejected” list Monday at the United States Supreme Court.
The high court, without comment, turned down Blagojevich’s appeal, leaving intact the 14 year sentence he received for, among other things, attempting to make deals for the Senate seat once occupied by President Barack Obama.
“We’re not surprised—disappointed,” said defense attorney Sam Adam, Jr, who added that he thought the Court had punted an opportunity to clarify the line between political horse-trading and criminal activity. “The citizenry has a right to know what politicians can and can’t do with campaign contributions, and the Supreme Court missed a prime opportunity to let us, as citizens, know that.”
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The high court rejection was the last mile of the former governor’s appellate road, but there is one narrow legal avenue remaining.
Blagojevich was convicted on a total of 18 counts, but last year, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals tossed five of those and ordered that the former governor be re-sentenced. That would appear to be his only avenue of redemption at this stage. But the re-sentencing will come at the hands of the judge who sent him to prison in the first place, United States District Judge James Zagel.
“I think the case is very different (now),” said appellate attorney Leonard Goodman. “I think the judge looks at the person and the case that’s before him.”
It has been widely believed that Zagel was waiting for the Supreme Court to act, before scheduling Blagojevich’s resentencing. But even that proceeding may offer little solace for the former governor, as the appellate court provided plenty of cover for Zagel to keep the present sentence intact.
“It is not possible to call 168 months unlawfully high for Blagojevich’s crimes,” they wrote, “but the district judge should consider on remand whether it is the most appropriate sentence.”
Goodman disagreed. After all, he noted, the five counts overturned by the appellate court, were key to some of the most bombastic allegations.
“Really some of the most sensational allegations, that he tried to make this illegal deal with Barack Obama, those are gone,” he said, “because the government says those were not a crime.”
Goodman said he hoped Zagel would see Blagojevich as a very different person than the overconfident, some would say unrepentant politician who appeared before him five years ago.
“He’s worked,” he said. “He’s helped other prisoners. There’s a stack of letters the judge will have.”
Blagojevich has been neither seen, nor heard, since he surrendered to the Federal Correctional Facility in Englewood, Colorado four years ago. Last August, he released a statement through his attorneys, expressing hope that he would one day be vindicated.
“These have been hard years for my family—for our children and for my wife, Patti and me,” he wrote. “Yet we continue to have faith in the truth; in the righteousness of our cause; in the rule of law and in America; in each other; and, most of all, in God.”
Blagojevich declared in that statement “I must fight on.”
For his part, Adam said he believed even those who didn’t support Blagojevich as governor, felt he got a raw deal.
“Most people come up to me and say I never liked Governor Blagojevich, but what he got was too much,” Adam said. “I believe most folks, looking back now and seeing what happened and hearing it, do not believe criminal activity was afoot.”
Ironically, Blagojevich may have one more opportunity before the Supreme Court. Since the high court did not give a reason for rejecting his case, it may have come down to a simple question of whether he had exhausted all avenues at the trial court level.
Depending what happens when he returns to Zagel’s court, that means he could potentially appeal that sentence again.
Former First Lady Patti Blogojevich said she continues to hold out hope.
“This was, of course, not the outcome that Rod, our daughters Amy and Annie, had hoped and prayed for,” she said. “But we continue to have faith in the system and an unshakable love for Rod.”
Blagojevich has eight years remaining on Zagel’s original 14 year sentence. He is due to be released in May of 2024.