Carol Felsenthal
On politics

The Prosecutors’ Biggest Blunder in the Blago Case

The key mistake in the government’s case against Rod Blagojevich happened right at the start of the trial, during jury selection, with the choice of a juror who ultimately became the sole vote siding with the ex-gov on key counts of the indictment. Sources say the holdout juror, an African-American retired state worker who had worked for the Illinois Department of Public Health, should have been dismissed…

The key mistake in the government’s case against Rod Blagojevich happened right at the start of the trial, during jury selection, with the choice of a juror who ultimately became the sole vote siding with the ex-gov on key counts of the indictment.

Sources say the holdout juror, an African-American retired state worker who had worked for the Illinois Department of Public Health, should have been dismissed during the jury selection phase, given her background and occupation. One longtime policy wonk who works for a nonprofit in the area of maternal and child health said that, to some who work with (and for) the poor, Blago was a hero—the man who championed legislation to extend health care to all children and their parents. (Blago’s defense lawyer, Sam Adam Jr., made sure to point out, with his voice breaking, how his prematurely-born daughter benefited from All Kids.)

Furthermore, Blago won fans for appointing many African-American women to senior positions in his administration and in state agencies.

Former assistant U.S. Attorney James Montana, now a defense lawyer and partner at Vedder Price, said prosecutors missed these cues at the start of the trial. Had he been on the prosecution team, Montana told me, “I would have been familiar with things that Blagojevich did as governor and asked myself whether or not that particular juror might be favorably inclined toward him because of that.”

He added that government lawyers didn’t even need to show cause to keep the juror from being seated—a preemptory challenge would have sufficed.

One juror summed it up for Chicago Tribune: “If it wasn’t for that one lady, we’d have had him convicted on probably 80 percent of [the indictment].”

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