Jailed Ex-Ill. Gov. Blagojevich's Lawyers Argue Appeal in Court

Lawyers for the disgraced former governor contend he was deprived of the right to present a defense and that his conviction should be overturned.

By Phil Rogers
|  Friday, Dec 13, 2013  |  Updated 9:33 PM EDT
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Lawyers argue former Illinos governor was deprived of the right to present a defense and that his corruption conviction should be overturned. Phil Rogers reports.

Lawyers argue former Illinos governor was deprived of the right to present a defense and that his corruption conviction should be overturned. Phil Rogers reports.

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To quote her husband's favorite singer, Patti Blagojevich suggests it’s going to be a blue Christmas.

The former First Lady of Illinois took a seat in the front row of the imprisoned ex-governor’s appeal hearing Friday, telling reporters that "there isn’t a day that goes by that my daughters and I don’t feel the emptiness of the absence of my husband."

"We’ve just gone through our second Thanksgiving, our second Christmas without him," she said.  "And we just hope and pray that he can be home soon with his family."

Toward that end, Blagojevich’s lawyers argued before the court that he had been deprived of the right to present a defense and that his conviction should be overturned.

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"He was literally left on the stand with no defense," declared attorney Leonard Goodman. "The government doesn't even dispute that this was unfair!"

While the government did dispute that, the three judges on the appellate panel took turns asking pointed questions of both sides.

"Is there any earlier case in which there was a criminal prosecution based on a promise to swap one political job for another?" Judge Frank Easterbrook asked. He was joined by judge Ilana Diamond Rovner, who noted that "politics is about winning friends, influencing people and using appointment power."

"Where is the line that differentiates legal horse trading from a federal offense that puts you in prison?" Rovner asked.

Easterbrook pointedly cited the example of Earl Warren, former governor of California, who famously traded political support for a guarantee from Dwight Eisenhower that he would be appointed to the United States Supreme Court.

"If I understand your position," he told prosecutor Debra Riggs Bonamici, "Earl Warren should have gone to prison, and Dwight Eisenhower should have gone to prison!"

When Bonamici attempted to suggest that the Blagojevich scenario was different, Easterbrook interrupted.

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"This proposed trade was a trade for the presidency of the United States for a position on the Supreme Court," he said. "The line between that and this can’t be the distinction between historical honor, and felon status!"

That said, judges on the Appellate Court are notorious for playing devil’s advocate, and their questions often do not telegraph their final rulings.

Indeed, they were equally contentious with the defense.

Rovner noted an undercover tape, where Blagojevich lamented the fact that then President-elect Obama was only willing to offer "appreciation" for the appointment of his friend Valerie Jarrett to the U.S. Senate.

"Doesn’t that tend to show that he was acting for private gain, rather than any public interest?" she asked.

Attorney Goodman insisted Blagojevich attempted nothing in secret, and had open discussions even outside his circle of advisors about a hope of being appointed to the Obama cabinet.

"This was not some backroom deal, that, when the smoke clears, he thought he was going to be Health and Human Services Secretary!" Goodman declared. 

The judges took the Blagojevich appeal under advisement. Afterwards, Goodman expressed hope that his arguments had hit home.

"His trial was fundamentally unfair," he said. "The jury did not get both sides of the story.  He was prevented, barred, from presenting his defense, and we’re praying that were successful in those arguments."

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