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The Blagojevich Trial: Layers of Meaning to the Non-Verdict Verdict

3 years ago
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Whatever else it means, the desultory end Tuesday to the federal corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich ensures we are stuck with the knucklehead at least through most of 2011. He won't be going to prison anytime soon for the one (of 24) counts for which he was convicted after a multimillion dollar trial. But he won't be receding into history, either, on account of a prompt decision by federal prosecutors to declare they intend to retry him for allegedly trying to sell former President Barack Obama's Senate seat to the highest bidder. Think Blagojevich I was a barnburner? What until you get a load of Blagojevich, Part Deux, the Sequel, the Revenge.

I kid. There are a lot of different layers of meaning to the jury's inability to render any sort of meaningful verdict after months of trial and weeks of deliberations. The easiest and most simple explanation is that there was a holdout thwarting the will of the other 11 jurors. And, indeed, one juror evidently said Tuesday after the fact that there was a holdout who "just didn't see what we all saw." If that's what happened here, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald no doubt will see a silver lining, tinker a bit with the presentation of his case next time out, and spend a whole lot more time and attention on jury selection.

It's also possible that federal prosecutors are kicking themselves right now for a lost opportunity. Did they, as Blagojevich's lawyers claim, stop their case fatally short, erroneously believing they would later supplement their case by attacking the former governor's story on cross-examination? Were they so cocky about those famous wiretaps that they didn't pour it on the way they should have? Did they not sufficiently explain all those cuss words uttered by Blagojevich as he sought to wheel and deal? Were they too complicated or not complicated enough? You can be sure they'll be talking to the jurors to get a sense of what they could have done better. Same goes for Team Blagojevich. If the score here really was 11-1 against, they ought not now be potted plants.

Another layer of meaning comes from the fact that this case never quite fit the typical pegs that we like to give to federal criminal cases. There was no violent crime here -- so there were no grieving family members of the victim attending the trial. This was not a case of terrorism. But the defendants in the dock were not white-collar criminals, either. So who are the real victims of the crimes with which Blagojevich was charged? Who lost of a life, or a limb, or a pension, or a life's fortune, off of Blagojevich's conduct (no matter how heinous we may feel it was)? The fact that Fitzgerald was able to convict I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby in similar circumstances (President George W. Bush later granted him clemency) didn't translate into a victory. Jurors, it seems, will still always give prosecutors more of the benefit of the doubt when there are real, tangible "victims" to account for.

Looking for a more political layer of meaning? How about the notion that jurors in America today -- like the rest of us -- are so disgusted with politics and politicians, the selling of political seats, and the grotesque bargaining that we are now essentially forgiving criminal conduct as "business as usual." It's easy to hear from the voice of our alleged "lone holdout" the following [fictitious] quote: "Why is what this guy did different in tone or tenor from what a thousand hack politicians do every day in Chicago and Washington and everywhere else in America?" Is it possible that "routine" politics have become so venal and unbecoming that we cannot distinguish it from official corruption and fraud and obstruction? And if so, how ironic that the political judgment against Blagojevich was so swift and stern compared with the still-looming legal judgment.

Deep stuff. So maybe you want to flit about a bit in some lighter fare. I am struck by the fact that Blagojevich, the reality show wannabe, now has been convicted of the very same federal crime -- lying to a federal agent -- that took down Martha Stewart. It's true. I was there. Stewart was convicted of making false statements and ended up serving six months in prison followed by a few luxurious months in home detention. If the feds offer a similar deal -- six months in prison then a few months at Stewart's mansion -- I'd make the deal if I were Blagojevich. Think of how much money the two would make on that reality show!

I kid again. Tuesday's non-verdict verdict was a rare but permanent blemish on Fitzgerald's impressive record as a prosecutor of the high and mighty. It is a temporary victory for the defendants; the sort of victory that generates a special sort of political luster. It says mostly about Chicago juries that they sure must like their free lunches every day to have stayed deadlocked like that for nearly two weeks. And it guarantees us another year, at least, of Blagojevich-o-rama. The hair. The defiance. The whole shebang. The sequel isn't likely to be as dramatic as the original; they rarely are. But I'm betting next time we'll have a happy ending, one way or the other.

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11 Comments

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Jody

Jurors - and the average citizen - should not see what he did as "business as usual". This shows that America needs to wake up and demand politicians of higher integrity. Also, there are victims in Blago's case. Everyday, average American citizens - especially those who live in Chicago. When one is demanding "contributions" or other kickbacks of money from business - average Joe is, as a victim, paying for them.

August 25 2010 at 1:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
truckescrt

I think this is JUNK. Either convict the man of a CRIME or let him go. Why should LYING be something you convict him of. If every "criminal" who lied to the police was sent to jail for lying to the police we wouldn't need to bother with trials! Seriously, Martha got screwed, I've said it all along. Right along with Leona Helmsley. How can you convict someone of lying about a crime that they aren't covicted of committing? That is an end run around the Constitution, plain and simple. How many people get arrested...cops ask him if he did it, he says "no" and they arrest and try him. If he's found not guilty, they can't turn around and re-arrest him for LYING to them to start with. It is junk and we as citizens should be outraged by the Feds. This should bother us more than anything of all of this.

August 19 2010 at 1:29 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
flyingwisconsin

Why are we so surprised at the outcome? I in fact have actually been surprised that he even went to trial considering that President Obama was involved and he too is part of the Chicago Political Machine. Wake up America and say enough is enough as our own goverment treats us like we are idiots and they will continue to do so until we send them a reminder as to why this Country was founded. A thing called Taxation Without Representation! So now to send them the proper reminder please vote vote vote and let your VOICE BE HEARD !!!!

August 18 2010 at 10:15 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
jackhbarrington

Thanks for wasting taxpayer money!

August 18 2010 at 7:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ddroeg

I certainly can't speak for what the jury was thinking, but for myself I'm struck by the feeling that while Blagojevich is guilty on a lot of different levels, he's not the only player is this drama. That is to say, finding him guilty and sending him to prison would only scratch the surface in rounding up all the dirty players involved in his attempt to sell the senate seat. Maybe the holdout juror couldn't bring himself/herself to convict this guy knowing that many others are getting off scott-free. Mind you, I am not agreeing with what happened, only hypothesizing that there's a deeper message being sent by these non-verdicts and that is, unless the US will make every effort to go after all the bad actors in this case, the public won't accept "token" convictions for just one involved criminal.

August 18 2010 at 3:00 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
druid0621

Too bad the jury needed to be unanimous. A simple majority or 1-2 dissenting votes should enable the verdict of the majority to stand.

August 18 2010 at 11:28 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
hatlady44

The former Gov. was tried and convicted. Will the Prosecuter just keep retrying the other counts until he gets more convictions? The former Gov made a good point when he spoke to the press that there are people getting gunned down in our streets including children that are playing outside their own homes. Shouldn't we spending money on crime in our neighborhoods, putting more teachers in the classrooms to educate our children and keep them off the streets and give them a better chance of being productive citizians? Our state as well as our country is operating with such an enormous debt, lets put this matter behind us, accept that the judical system did what it was put in place to do and move on to other pressing issues.

August 18 2010 at 11:16 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to hatlady44's comment
Jody

Maybe we should - spend MORE money - if we had it to spend. We don't. Although there might have been more money for education in Illinois if Blago hadn't been so busy extorting $ for himself. Impossible to believe that so many think Blago's actions are OK. Only in Chicago.

August 25 2010 at 1:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jimwzdp

Mr Cohen, how many criminal trials have you either prosecuted or represented the defendant? Your idle musings and rampant speculation about what either side could have, should have, or would have done indicates you really don't appear to understand the dynamics of a criminal trial and jury. This article is no more informative than one would expect from a lay person who has never been actively involved in a criminal trial. Just because you have a J.D. doesn't make you qualified or even competent to render an opinion in any particular area of the law. But at least it appears that there is an alternative to those who have to teach because they cannot "do" - they can now also offer up inane commentary.

August 18 2010 at 10:29 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
maryledwards

I prefer to be able to vote- not just read the comments

August 18 2010 at 10:15 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply

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