Republicans in Illinois who are determined to use the image of Rod Blagojevich to try to boost the electoral chances of every single GOP candidate on the ballot in next year’s elections ought to give a big thanks to U.S. District Judge James Zagel.
He is the judge who is presiding over the upcoming trial of Blagojevich, whom federal prosecutors say engaged in all sorts of corrupt activity during his six years as governor.
ZAGEL ON THURSDAY set a date for the trial.
Now in the world of courtroom antics, nothing is ever set in stone. Dates can always be changed, deadlines extended.
So there’s always a chance that June 3 of next year will turn out to be nothing more than a routine Thursday at the Dirksen Federal Building.
But that is the date Zagel told the defense attorneys he wants to actually begin jury selection for the Blagojevich proceedings.
WITH THE LIKELIHOOD that such proceedings will take a few weeks, and the actual presentation of evidence for and against Milorod taking a couple of months, then giving the jury time to wade through the mounds of testimony that they will be buried in next summer, it is very possible that the Blagojevich case could reach a verdict some time around Labor Day.
In electoral circles, Labor Day is also the time when campaigns for statewide and federal offices step up their activities. It is the time when regular people start paying attention to who is running for what (prior to that date, it is only the campaign junkies – most of whom have an ideological bias against a candidate from the start – who pay any attention).
So there is a very good chance that right at about the time people are starting to pay much attention to who is running for U.S. Senate from Illinois, or for governor or any of the other state constitutional posts, there will be fresh news to report.
In the imaginations of the Republicans, that news will be “Blago Guilty!” Of what, we don’t know. Not that it really matters.
ALL IT WILL take is for a few of the charges against Blagojevich to result in a “guilty” verdict for the GOP to start screeching that all Democrats are just like Milorod.
Despite Blagojevich’s attorneys repeated statements that he’s “not guilty then, and he’s not guilty now,” it would be a surprise if federal prosecutors were not able to trip up the former governor in some sort of technicality. Beating a criminal charge in U.S. District Court is next to impossible, and Blagojevich doesn’t have much to bargain with these days in terms of trying to negotiate a guilty plea to a lesser charge.
There’s even another potential plus. If the trial were to wrap up around Labor Day and if Zagel were to give himself a couple of months to ponder the case before imposing a sentence, that would put the actual sentencing for Blagojevich sometime in late October or early November.
Election Day next year is Nov. 2.
WHAT BETTER FINAL image would there be for the Republican hopes (which quite frankly may be long shots even with the presence of Blagojevich in the Illinois political air) than to literally see the former governor receive a prison sentence (no matter how little, it will be presented by partisan operatives as a major event) in the days before Election Day.
Now realize that much of this scenario is speculation on my part, based on my past observations of how long it can take to get through a criminal trial at the federal court level.
The only hard-and-fast fact is that Zagel literally did set the June 3 date, saying he wants to begin the trial as quickly as possible.
For those people who say that a date nearly a full year away is not quick enough, keep in mind that there are nearly 3 million documents that the Blagojevich legal defense team has to work their way through to try to figure out exactly how they will defend his behavior.
HOW WILL THEY try to claim that the goofy antics we saw Blagojevich partake in were merely stupid, and not illegal? To me, that is the aspect of the trial I am waiting to hear – all the rest is nothing more than trivia.
If Zagel were to try to push for a trial sooner, he’d be giving the defense attorneys a legitimate legal grounds for an appeal – which could result in any conviction being thrown out and the federal prosecutors having to repeat the whole process of trying to put Blagojevich on trial.
As it is, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn if Blagojevich’s legal team tries to argue for more time. Not that I think Zagel would give it to them, but I’m sure there are some people who would prefer if the whole Blagojevich affair were to come to a head in December, or perhaps in January 2010.
By then, the elections would be past. I don’t think that Lisa Madigan taking the oath of office for whatever government post she ultimately decides to run for would care much what happens to Blagojevich if its potential political impact on her is kept to a minimum.