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Federal judge refuses to throw out Blagojevich conviction

A judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois [official website] on Wednesday refused to overturn [order, PDF] a false statements conviction assessed against former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Blagojevich argued that his sole conviction of making false statements to the FBI should be thrown out [JURIST report] due to claims of trial errors and prosecutorial misconduct A jury found Blagojevich guilty [JURIST report] of making false statements to the FBI, but remained deadlocked on 23 additional charges. Blagojevich argued that his conviction was not "legally sound" [AP report] because prosecutors asked leading questions during cross examination and the jury was not given proper instructions. Judge James Zagel rejected these arguments as weak in a two-page opinion, stating that it was an attempt on Blagojevich's part to attack the prosecutor when the facts and law are not on his side. Blagojevich is scheduled for retrial in April on the 23 counts that failed to receive a unanimous jury verdict.

In June, a federal judge denied a request [JURIST report] to delay the Blagojevich trial in order for his defense lawyers to review a decision by the US Supreme Court [official website] limiting the scope of the federal honest services fraud statute [18 USC § 1346 text]. Zagel held that the trial delay was unnecessary because the Supreme Court's decision in Skilling v. United States [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] was unlikely to affect Blagojevich's case. In April, the prosecution was ordered [JURIST report] to release a 91-page government proffer outlining evidence in its case against Blagojevich. In March, Blagojevich pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to eight amended corruption charges. In January 2009, the Illinois State Senate voted unanimously [JURIST report] to convict Blagojevich of abuse of power and remove him from office. Blagojevich and his former chief of staff were arrested [JURIST report] in December 2008. Blagojevich's list of charges include attempting to sell the Senate seat vacated by US President Barack Obama [official web site], making appointments based on anticipated campaign contributions and taking kickbacks from a number of companies.

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