CHICAGO (AP) – A full appellate court indicated Wednesday that it will not rehear an appeal of Rod Blagojevich’s corruption convictions, and his lawyer responded that the imprisoned former Illinois governor will appeal next to the U.S. Supreme Court.
After a three-judge panel tossed out five of his 18 convictions in July, the Democrat had hoped the full court might overturn even more. But the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals posted a notice Wednesday saying not a single judge on the court asked for a rehearing.
Blagojevich, 58, is serving a 14-year prison sentence at a federal prison in Colorado on convictions including his attempt to sell an appointment to President Barack Obama’s old U.S. Senate seat.
An appeal to the high court is a last slim hope for Blagojevich, who proclaimed his innocence for years on talk shows, including NBC’s “The Apprentice” when Donald Trump still presided over the reality show.
There’s no guarantee the Supreme Court would even agree to hear Blagojevich’s appeal. It accepts only around 80 cases a year out of more than 10,000 requests to take up a case, according to court data. It also favors cases that raise unique, weighty issues.
Defense attorney Leonard Goodman, however, suggests that the Supreme Court might agree to a view that 7th Circuit judges did not agree with: That in each case of alleged corruption, Blagojevich was participating in legal, run-of-the-mill politicking.
Allowing all the convictions to stand, Goodman said in a written statement, “puts every public official who must raise campaign funds to stay in office and to be effective at the mercy of an ambitious or politically motivated federal prosecutor.”
Blagojevich’s wife, Patti, added in the statement about going to the Supreme Court that “in order for us to see justice, the appeal needs to be taken out of Illinois … where we can find fairness and impartial justices.”
The Chicago-based appeals court itself grants very few requests for full-court rehearings. And Phil Turner, a former U.S. prosecutor, said he wasn’t surprised it rejected Blagojevich’s request.
“I don’t think other judges on the court wanted to challenge the three judges’ original finding. … They’re well respected,” he said. “And with Blagojevich, I think many judges just don’t like the guy.”
A central focus of the three-judge panel’s July opinion was the question of when an official crosses the line from legal into illegal political wheeling and dealing.
They found Blagojevich crossed that line when he sought money – often campaign cash – for naming someone to Obama’s old Senate seat. But they said he didn’t cross it by asking for a Cabinet seat for himself. Secretly trading favors based on politicians’ executive powers, the panel concluded, is a legitimate way to get things done.
Thus, the appeals panel tossed convictions linked to Blagojevich’s bid for the Cabinet post in exchange for appointing an Obama adviser to the Senate. But it called the evidence on the 13 remaining counts “overwhelming.”
In a modest win for Blagojevich, the panel ordered that he be brought back to Chicago to be resentenced, something that could happen within the next several months. But it also said his original 14-year sentence might be considered fair even after subtracting the five overturned counts.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago hasn’t commented on how the court drew the line between legal and illegal politics. But Jeff Cramer, another former federal prosecutor, believes the government attorneys can’t be happy about it. While they could even appeal to the Supreme Court themselves on that narrow issue, he doesn’t think they will.
“The only thing worse for them than the 7th Circuit saying a favor for a favor is not political corruption – is for the Supreme Court to say they agree with it,” he said.
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