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Rod Blagojevich Wins Delay of Criminal Case Retrial

Rod Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor whose criminal corruption trial ended in August with the jury deadlocked on 23 of 24 counts, won a delay of his retrial until April.

U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel in Chicago today granted a defense request for a postponement. Zagel, who previously said he wanted the trial to start in early January, set the case for April 20. Blagojevich was convicted on a single count of lying to federal authorities.

“The universe has changed a little,” Zagel told prosecutors and the governor’s lawyers in court, noting the departure from the case of lead defense attorney, Sam Adam Jr., uncertainty about who would represent Blagojevich, and how his lawyers would be paid.

A twice-elected Democrat, Blagojevich, 53, was arrested in December 2008 on charges that he tried to link official actions by his office to campaign contributions.

He was also accused of seeking contributions or jobs for himself and his wife, Patti, in exchange for an appointment to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar opposed the postponement, arguing that the remaining defense lawyers, who worked on the first trial, already saw the government’s evidence and cross-examined its witnesses.

“No retrial is exactly the same as the original trial,” Zagel said, overruling Schar’s objection.

Guilty Verdict

Jurors were unable to agree on most of the counts Blagojevich faced. On Aug. 17, the jury found him guilty of lying to federal agents about whether he kept track of campaign contributions and their sources.

Zagel today told defense lawyer Sheldon Sorosky and his co-counsel that he was disinclined to grant Blagojevich’s request for a retrial on that charge. He didn’t issue a formal ruling on the matter.

Two days after the verdict, juror Stephen Wlodek said in an interview that a single holdout prevented the governor from being found guilty on additional counts related to the Senate seat.

“We just could not sway her out of what her opinion was,” said Wlodek, 36, a human resources manager living in Barlett, Illinois.

The jury acquitted the ex-chief executive’s brother, Robert Blagojevich, on the four counts he faced. Robert was chairman of the Friends of Blagojevich campaign finance committee in 2008.

No Money

Blagojevich’s defense at his first trial was paid for using campaign funds, since depleted. While Blagojevich has three lawyers preparing his defense, only two will be allowed to participate in the trial. They will be paid at the public attorney rate of $125 an hour.

“In the interest of fairness, he gave us a continuance,” Sorosky told reporters after the hearing.

“It’s like, let’s say, a football game ends in a tie and it’s got to be replayed,” Sorosky said. “It wouldn’t be very fair if one team could bring all 11 players back out to play and the next team only has five players, and that’s what we have here. We only have half our resources.”

Obama’s former White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, was subpoenaed by the defense to testify in the first trial concerning an extortion-related charge against the ex-governor. He didn’t testify.

A former U.S. congressman representing neighborhoods on Chicago’s North Side, Emanuel has said he is contemplating a run for mayor of the third-largest U.S. city. Six-term incumbent Richard M. Daley has said he won’t seek re-election in February.

Sorosky today said he didn’t yet know whether he would again seek to secure Emanuel’s trial testimony.

The case is U.S. v. Blagojevich, 08-cr-00888, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).

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