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November 14, 2013

Prosecutors respond to Blagojevich appeal

CHICAGO — Prosecutors have responded to Rod Blagojevich’s appeal of his corruption conviction, challenging the notion that the behavior that landed the disgraced former Illinois governor behind bars was run-of-the-mill political horse-trading.

Government attorneys rebutted that and other claims in an unusually lengthy, 169-page filing before a midnight deadline Tuesday. It’s a reply to the Democrat’s July appeal with the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.

Jurors convicted Blagojevich on 18 counts, including for trying to profit from his power to name someone to the Senate seat that Barack Obama vacated to become president. Blagojevich is serving a 14-year prison term in Colorado as Inmate No. 40892-424.

In their 100-page appeal, defense attorneys claim Blagojevich engaged in a legal “political horse-trade” when he floated the idea of a Cabinet seat or ambassadorship for himself if he appointed Obama confidant Valerie Jarrett to the seat. Neither Obama nor Jarrett have ever been accused of any wrongdoing in the case.

In their response, prosecutors balk at the idea that what Blagojevich did was commonplace.

“This is an extraordinary claim,” the government filing says. “No matter the price he charges, a public official who sells his office engages in crime, not politics.”

Blagojevich’s appeal seeks a new trial or at least a reduction in what his attorneys describe as an excessive, disproportionate sentence. They allege a litany of errors and a lack of evenhandedness by the trial judge, U.S. District Judge James Zagel.

One of Zagel’s errors, the defense argued in their filing, was to allow a biased juror to sit on the panel during Blagojevich’s second, decisive trial. Their appeal only referred to him as Juror No. 174, noting that he said about Blagojevich during jury selection that, “I just figured him, possibly, to be guilty.”

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