By Michael Tarm, Associated Press
CHICAGO — Lawyers for Rod Blagojevich filed an appeal Monday challenging the imprisoned former Illinois governor’s corruption conviction and stiff, 14-year prison term.
The lengthy filing with the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago comes more than two years after the Chicago Democrat’s retrial and 16 months after he entered a federal prison in Colorado.
Jurors convicted Blagojevich, 56, of engaging in wide-ranging corruption, including that the two-term governor sought to profit from his power to appoint someone to the U.S. Senate seat that Barack Obama vacated to become president.
The appeal cites a juror who allegedly expressed a bias against Blagojevich who was seated despite the objections of defense attorneys. It also raises longstanding claims that Judge James Zagel barred FBI wiretap evidence that might have aided the defense and argues the judge miscalculated the appropriate prison term.
The appeal was filed about 30 minutes before a midnight deadline to do so.
In June, Blagojevich’s attorneys requested permission to file a longer-than-usual appeal, noting the trial produced 12,000 pages of transcripts. “The issues for appeal are numerous and complicated,” they wrote. The court agreed to let them file the equivalent of about 100 pages, which is what they did.
Blagojevich was convicted on 18 counts over two trials, jurors in the first deadlocking on all but one count. Taking the stand in the second, decisive trial in 2011, Blagojevich insisted his talking about wanting to sell Obama’s seat was just that — talk.
At his sentencing hearing later in 2011, an uncharacteristically deferential Blagojevich asked Zagel for mercy and said he accepted responsibility. He told the court in a hushed voice, “I caused it all.”
Despite those words, Zagel imposed a lengthy prison term, telling Blagojevich he had abused voters’ trust and undermined the democratic process “to do things that were only good for yourself.”
Many observers at the time said Blagojevich’s best hope on appeal wasn’t that a higher court would overturn his convictions but that appellate judges would agree his sentence was too harsh.
Others convicted in the decade-long investigation of Blagojevich’s administration received far shorter sentences in exchange for their cooperation. His former chief of staff, John Harris, served as a key witness against his old boss and received a 10-day term.
Appeals can take years to play out, and defendants rarely prevail.
Another Illinois governor convicted for corruption, George Ryan, filed multiple appeals over years and lost every key ruling. The former Republican leader was recently released after more than five years in prison and seven months of home confinement.
Secret wiretaps of an often foul-mouthed Blagojevich eager to earn big money were at the core of prosecutors’ case. Dozens of witnesses, including several one-time Blagojevich confidants and aides, also testified for the government.
“I’ve got this thing and it’s f—— golden,” jurors heard Blagojevich saying in one wiretapped conversation about Obama’s vacated seat. “And I’m just not giving it up for f—— nothing. I’m not going to do it.”
As Inmate No. 40892-424 in the Federal Correctional Institution Englewood in suburban Denver, Blagojevich’s life is highly regimented, including frequent head counts and having to wake at dawn.
In a Facebook posting this year, Blagojevich’s wife, Patti, said her husband is spending time in prison teaching Civil War history and learning to play the guitar. She added that he frequently jogs around a quarter-mile prison track.
“All that we have been left with is a aching hole in our lives,” she added about herself and the couple’s two daughters.
Federal agents arrested the then-governor at his home Dec. 9, 2008. When an FBI official called to tell Blagojevich that agents were at his door to arrest him, he reportedly responded in disbelief, “Is this a joke?”
After his arrest, Blagojevich hit the talk-show circuit to declare his innocence and to rail against prosecutors. He even appeared on Donald Trump’s reality show, “The Apprentice.”