After the closing arguments on Tuesday, I called a prominent defense lawyer in town whom I’ve known for decades. He asked not to be identified, but his insights are worth sharing as jurors begin deliberating today in the corruption trial of Rod Blagojevich. Caveat: His experience, legal acumen, and street smarts are from years of working as a criminal defense attorney.
How was Sam Adam Jr.’s closing arguments compared to that of the prosecutors?
He’s a tremendous orator, incredibly populist. He did what he had to do… and was a lot better than the prosecutors. The prosecutors’ closing arguments were boring. It’s hard to get a jury angry if you don’t appear to be angry. There should have been some passion. You remember how animated [U.S. Attorney Patrick] Fitzgerald was at the press conference [on the day Rod Blagojevich was arrested]. He was indignant; he and the FBI guy in charge were insulted that there could be a governor like that—Lincoln was rolling over in his grave. The two prosecutors [at Blago’s trial] very cerebrally outlined the evidence. They were very low-key, and I don’t think it helped their cause. Adam’s failure was that he didn’t argue the facts very well; he didn’t have the facts. The failure of the prosecution is they argued the facts beautifully, but they lacked the passion that Adam had.
What does it mean if the jury is out for a short time versus a long time?
I’ve had juries out two months and I’ve had juries out two hours. If the jury comes back in an hour, it means the jury is not deliberating. What would 12 rational human beings do if they had to decide this in an hour? The answer is 12 rational human beings wouldn’t decide it in an hour.
If the jury is still deliberating next week, should Blago take heart?
It doesn’t mean anything.
Did Judge Zagel make the right decision in not releasing the names of the jurors?
Absolutely. Nowadays in high public crimes you can’t do it any other way. People would have done background checks and tried to contact them. You’d have people blogging, people leaving messages on Facebook, giving opinions, threatening them. You would ruin a jury.
What about the fate of Rod’s brother, Robert Blagojevich?
I think his attorney did a wonderful job. They shouldn’t have indicted him in the first place—it was a bad decision. Poor guy spends his whole life trying to be a good citizen, comes to help his brother for four months. I think a jury would acquit him.
Predict the verdict for Rod.
He’ll win some counts and [get a hung jury] on others. The government’s arguments didn’t impress me. I think he’ll get some acquittals.
Should the jury find Blago guilty on one or more of the counts, is there a good basis for appeal?
Nobody has a good basis for an appeal in front of the Seventh Circuit. It’s not a defense-oriented group of human beings.