Jest a lot of problems with Blago’s retrial

Today’s column from the Kankakee Daily Journal and The (Ottawa, Ill.) Times

Jest a lot of problems with Blago’s retrial


Sept. 25, 2010

Mayor Daley is stepping down. Jesse Jackson Jr. has been stepping out. And the rest of Illinois’ politicians are stepping up their game – or, at least, their antics – as the Land of Lincoln prepares for the onset of its silly season.

Otherwise known as election time.

The state’s silliest pol of them all, however, has been conspicuously (and blissfully) silent during the past several weeks.

And, you know, Rod Blagojevich could stay that way.

If only we’d let him.

Come January, though, our ex-governor – and his ego – will return to the spotlight as the Feds again attempt to cook his goose after their legal recipe failed the first time around.

The thing is, though, it wasn’t the prosecution’s recipe that was the problem during Blagojevich’s mistrial this summer. Rather, it was their ingredients.

They were rotten.

And even fresh material, such as potential testimony from convicted influence peddler Tony Rezko or this week’s news that Indian-American businessman Raghuveer Nayak told federal investigators that Rep. Jackson asked him to raise millions for Blagojevich in hopes that he would appoint Jackson to the Senate seat vacated by President Obama, doesn’t really change that.

Last month, JoAnn Chiakulas – the so-called “holdout juror” who refused to convict Blagojevich on all but one of 24 counts – explained that the government simply didn’t convince her beyond a reasonable doubt that the ex-Guv was guilty.

Many media types found her refusal to convict Blagojevich ridiculous, but I didn’t. And that’s not saying I think he’s innocent. I don’t. But proof of guilt is a high burden, and if Chiakulas didn’t feel that the government met that burden, then she didn’t.

That was her prerogative.

To convict someone in a criminal trial in the United States, the prosecution needs to convince every juror of the defendant’s guilt. In the case of Blagojevich, the Feds simply did not.

I don’t, however, fault U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald & Co. for that, because I truly don’t believe they had the legal ammunition necessary to eliminate reasonable doubt in every juror’s mind.

Fact is, there was no “smoking gun” in the whole Blagojevich saga. Rather, there was a lot of talk by an egomaniacal governor that seemed to perhaps be conspiratorial, but also seemed to just be all over the place.

I can see how a juror might lean toward the latter.

And I don’t believe that Blagojevich’s media blitzes and reality TV appearances had anything to do with that. The true reality is that the moment Blagojevich was arrested before a Senate seat – or anything else – was “sold,” the case against him was left with a whole lot of holes.

And that’s why I believe the government shouldn’t try him again (even though they’re going to), because with no “smoking barrel,” I easily could see another mistrial taking place.

I think we might need to just be satisfied that Blagojevich is out of office, was denied the opportunity for even greater corruption and was found guilty on at least something (lying to federal investigators).

He’s also currently out of our hair.

But once the retrial begins, his won’t be.

From the get-go, Rod Blagojevich was a flawed case, but a good arrest that benefited Illinois by leading to his removal from office. I’d prefer to just let it be at that. Because, if the Feds don’t recognize that during a retrial one out of 12 jurors (at least) could see things the same way Chiakulas did, then they’re fooling themselves.

Let’s hope that in court come January, we don’t see Blagojevich making fools of us yet again as its Jester.

Jest don’t be surprised if he does.

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