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Question of the day

Tuesday, Jun 28, 2011

* You probably saw this go by in the live feed yesterday

Ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich turned to defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky and asked “What happened?” after he was found guilty of 17 of 20 charges in his corruption retrial.

* And then there was this quote as Blagojevich talked to reporters…

“I, frankly, am stunned,”

* The Question: What do you make of those quotes?

- Posted by Rich Miller   108 Comments      


Lura Lynn Ryan passes away

Tuesday, Jun 28, 2011

* Sad news

The wife of imprisoned former Illinois Gov. George Ryan has died.

Ryan’s attorney, Andrea Lyon, confirms that Lura Lynn Ryan died on Monday at a hospital in Kankakee. She was 76.

She had been diagnosed with lung cancer and hospitalized for apparent complications from chemotherapy.

A friend of Mrs. Ryan’s prepared an obituary this week. Click here to read it.

…Adding… From the Kankakee Daily Journal

She died late Monday evening at Riverside Medical Center in Kankakee after a long bout with cancer, said Kankakee County Coroner Robert Gessner. She was 76.

Ryan had been released from his prison cell in Terre Haute, Ind., to spend several hours with her on Monday, one of four times since January the prison’s warden has allowed the former governor to see his ailing wife, despite repeatedly denied requests from the courts.

“It was enormously important to him and to her,” said Ryan attorney former Gov. Jim Thompson. “They’ve been together all their lives really.”

- Posted by Rich Miller   Comments Off      


What happens next?

Tuesday, Jun 28, 2011

* Funny, but not quite true

Now the greedy governor faces up to 300 years in prison — longer than the life spans of Kipling, Tennyson and Elvis combined.

* More likely

According to the Associated Press, the convictions carry a combined maximum prison sentence of around 300 years, but legal experts say a federal judge is likely to send him away for around a decade, give or take a few years.

But Blagojevich, when sentenced later this year, could be awarded 10 to 15 years in jail, according to other legal experts.

* Also plausible

“Somewhere between six and 11 years. The sentencing guidelines by the United States Sentencing Commission have a mathematical formula. You punch in who he is, what he did, whether drugs were involved-which they weren’t - weapons, etc. and it gives you a range the judge will be able to sentence him. I think it will be a range somewhere between six and seven on the bottom and 11 on the top,” said Prof. Richard Kling, Kent College of Law.

George Ryan got 6 and a half years.

A status hearing is set for August 11th. A sentencing hearing schedule could be set then.

* The Trib lays it out

Before Blagojevich is sentenced, a probation officer using federal sentencing guidelines will calculate the range of punishment faced by Blagojevich. Then prosecutors and Blagojevich’s lawyers will argue about why more time should be added or shaved off.

Since the sentencing guidelines were made advisory and not mandatory about six years ago, Zagel has wide discretion to impose the sentence he thinks is just and fair.

“It’s the essential judgment call,” said former federal prosecutor Dean Polales, who is now a criminal-defense attorney. “The burden is entirely on him.”

Among the factors to be weighed are criminal history, the nature and circumstance of the offense, and the need for deterrence. Judges often also consider family circumstances.

The government will be certain to raise Blagojevich’s breach of the public trust as well as the pervasive culture of corruption that swirled around his administration, Loeb said.

And if he continues to insist he’s innocent? Bad things will happen come sentencing time. Remorseless convicts are rarely given a judicial break.

Also, just think of the deterrence factor if he did get 300 years. That’d make folks think twice, I’d wager.

* But, first, there’s the matter of his bond

Convicted of 18 felonies, including the lying charge from a year ago, Blagojevich will be required to post additional bond to remain free. He is likely to put up the remaining equity he has in his Ravenswood home and a half-million dollar condo in Washington. Details will be worked out within the next week at a meeting between his attorneys and prosecutors.

“There’ll be some paperwork that needs to be filled out in terms of his ability to post those things in a forfeiture agreement that he’ll sign and they’ll secure his bond,” said Reid Schar, assistant U.S. Attorney.

There are the post trial motions due four weeks from Monday on July 25. Among them: whether a Blagojevich request to remain free on bond as his appeal is considered. He would have to show a compelling reason that his appeal is likely to succeed, a standard difficult to meet. It didn’t succeed for ex-governor George Ryan.

* And then the appeal itself

Blagojevich lawyers will argue the conviction should be reversed because the ex-governor wasn’t allowed to play certain tapes.

His first attorney, Sam Adam Jr., is likely to help prepare the appeal that could take months.

“He was not able to corroborate his own innocence with the tapes that we know and that they wanted to put in that show he was not committing a crime. I think we’ll see that in the Seventh Circuit, I think we’ll see that on the appeal, and I think he’ll end up vindicated,” said Adams Jr.

* Scott Fawell, speaking from experience, offers some sound advice

Rod will face a different world once he starts prison life. The clothes he wears, his living quarters, his roommates and the food he eats will be decided not by him, but by the Bureau of Prisons . He won’t be Gov. Blagojevich to the prison guards. He’ll be a prisoner with a prison registration number that ends with 424, the “Chicago” designation. His every movement will be limited and watched at all times by the guards and security cameras. He will be given a job earning 12 cents an hour working in the kitchen, as an orderly or on the prison landscaping crew. His communications with loved ones will be limited. He will be allowed 300 phone minutes a month to call home. Three hundred minutes, which averages out to 10 minutes a day. Barely time to say hello, and certainly not enough time to hear about the kids’ school play or deal with even the smallest family crisis. Those matters must wait for visiting day, which may be only one or two weekends a month. Not a lot of time to stay connected.

Daily prison life can be made easier or more difficult depending on your attitude and demeanor. Follow the rules, don’t rock the boat, be respectful of the staff and your life can be bearable. Be arrogant, obnoxious and disrespectful, and the guards and staff can and will make your life a living hell. This is not an environment where independent thought, discussion or actions are encouraged. It’s the BOP’s game, on its court, playing by its rules. You learn quickly to play ball or you pay a price. I was given this piece of advice by an old friend who had been in federal prison: “Check your ego and personality at the door when you check in, and pick them back up on the way out.” It was sound advice. […]

It’s essential that you stay mentally strong. You can make the time bearable or you can let it eat away at you. It’s really only up to you. While I can’t say prison wasn’t difficult and certainly challenging at times, I can say prison is not the end. Rod, here’s some unsolicited advice. Go serve your time quietly, get out and then just move on with your life.

I just can’t see him doing that.

…Adding… I agree with Betty

When Betty Loren-Maltese caught glimpses of Rod Blagojevich preening for the cameras during his corruption trial last year, one thought kept coming back to her: This guy is not ready for prison.

Loren-Maltese, the former town president of Cicero, is an expert on the subject. After being convicted in 2002 of helping bilk her town out of $12 million, she spent seven years in federal custody before gaining her freedom last year.

Though she thinks Blagojevich toned down his celebrity act during the second trial, Loren-Maltese still wonders how he’ll adjust to the stark, often humiliating existence behind bars.

“Most people have a fixed opinion of politicians,” she said. “A lot of prisoners feel (politicians) might even be responsible for them being in prison. I don’t think it’ll be easy for him, but it’ll definitely change his attitude and make him realize he’s not the king.”

* Related…

* Prison wouldn’t mean end of locks for Blagojevich

* Blagojevich likely to lose state pension, keep federal perk: Ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich stands to lose a $65,000-a-year state pension as a felon, but he’s likely to be eligible for $15,000 a year in federal retirement pay for his time as a congressman. The defrocked Democrat also would be eligible for a refund of about $128,000 in personal contributions he made to the state’s retirement fund.

- Posted by Rich Miller   59 Comments      


Time for more reform?

Tuesday, Jun 28, 2011

* Yesterday, Gov. Pat Quinn reacted to the Rod Blagojevich verdict by reviving his proposal from last year to give Illinoisans a right to petition the General Assembly to act on ethics bills. Listen…

Quinn used his amendatory veto pen last year to add this referenda language. It would require 100,000 signatures be gathered and then the proposal would be submitted to the House, which would be required to vote up or down. If it pased, it would move on to the Senate, which would also have to give it a recorded vote. If it failed to become law, the proposal would be put on the ballot as an advisory referendum.

Since last year’s AV, the governor appeared to drop the whole idea and didn’t press for its passage during session this year.

* As I told you yesterday, Quinn also wants a conflict of interest law for the General Assembly. That’s easier said than done, of course. For instance, should a farmer be prohibited from voting on farm bills? Or do you go the way of Congress and forbid all outside income unless assets are put into a blind trust?

* Quinn also talked about open primaries. This is a longstanding cause for the governor, but he’s always been rebuffed. And he spoke about expanding recall to more state and local officials.

* Not everyone agrees that new laws are needed, however

But state Rep. Pat Verschoore, D-East Moline, said he’s not sure more laws would guarantee a clean state.

“You can’t legislate morality,” Verschoore said. “There are going to be people who try to get around the laws.”

* And sometimes reforms can backfire

Ronan said that despite appearances of business as usual, in some cases the reform movement has gone too far. The climate post-Blagojevich is so sensitive to appearances of conflicts of interest, he said, that it slows innovation and drives businesses away.

“They broke the system for procurement,” Ronan said of the contract-awarding process. “Right now, it’s difficult for legitimate businesses to go through the machinations.”

Changes in the procurement process restrict the contact companies seeking business with the state of Illinois can have with state agency personnel. An engineering firm with new technology to build bridges, for example, can’t meet with Illinois Department of Transportation officials to talk about it, and then bid on a project to install the technology, Ronan said.

The paperwork — and fear that any behind-the-scenes meetings might spur speculation of an inside deal – have resulted in undue, unreasonable constraints and caused some businesses to simply look elsewhere, he said.

* Meanwhile, two Tribune reporters offer up this bit of analysis

Republicans had hoped to capitalize last year on Blagojevich’s tainted past, yet found themselves losing a third straight election for governor. This time the loss was at the hands of Pat Quinn, the lieutenant governor who ascended to the top spot after Blagojevich was impeached and removed.

Blagojevich himself may be partly responsible for the lack of change. As governor, he courted Republican insiders and others who could strengthen his political hand, regardless of whether it built his standing with fellow Democrats.

Even out of office, the focus was on Blagojevich’s behavior. Instead of keeping his mouth shut as so many politicians facing criminal charges have done in the past, he took two national media tours to tout his innocence, wrote a book, hosted a radio talk show and appeared in a “reality” TV show.

The glib Blagojevich was routinely portrayed as a fool, the jester who turned Illinois politics into the punch line of a national joke. But that also allowed the state’s political class to portray him as an oddity instead of a symptom of a troubled system.

Voters seemed to see it the same way.

He was most certainly an outlier. If the system was full of Rod Blagojevich types, we’d have crashed and burned long ago. The man was a menace.

* Heck, even Patrick Fitzgerald all but admitted as much

On Monday, [Fitzgerald] said the key question for the jury was whether to accept the defense suggestion that Blagojevich’s activities amounted to “the kind of political wheeling and dealing that is common in Illinois and around the country.”

“That,” said Fitzgerald, his voice rising, “couldn’t be any further from the truth. … Selling a Senate seat, shaking down a children’s hospital and squeezing a person to give money before you sign a bill that benefits them is not a gray area. It’s a crime.”

* The Tribune editorial board, however, is not impressed

In the background, the cadence from Springfield never varies: Trust us — We fixed it! Blagojevich was an outlier. You can relax.

Relaxing, though, got the people of Illinois where we are. Too many of us do not treat elections as choices of how respectfully we’ll be governed. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald alluded to that abdication of civic duty when he announced Blagojevich’s arrest in December 2008. Fitzgerald talked about the pervasive corruption in Illinois and how the feds alone couldn’t end it: “You look to the FBI to do a lot. You look to law enforcement to do a lot. But the real effort to clean up corruption is going to start with the citizenry.”

Blagojevich was an outlier, and, yes, the problem isn’t fixed, and, yes, we need better candidates. Maybe if the Tribune hadn’t wasted its endorsement on Andy McKenna last year, an electable Republican might’ve been nominated. Newspapers don’t have all that much power these days, but even the Trib could’ve swung a couple hundred votes to Kirk Dillard. Also, with the awesome corporate political power unleashed nationally by the US Supreme Court, you’re not going to find many Democratic politicians amenable to putting even stricter campaign caps into law.

* The Sun-Times partially looked at the bright side

Look closely, though, and you’ll see that Illinois already has begun putting the Blago era behind it.

The state Legislature passed important ethics reforms in the dark months following Blagojevich’s arrest. Illinois enacted its first-ever limit on campaign donations, improved the way it lets contracts and strengthened its freedom of information law. And this spring, for the first time in years, we witnessed the workings of functioning state Legislature.

During the Blagojevich years, the governor was deemed so untrustworthy that few in the Legislature would work with him, bringing the process to a halt.

But this spring, the Democratic-led Legislature started its budget work by responsibly projecting state revenues — a novel concept! — and passing a budget. The
Legislature passed a major education-reform package and fixed a broken workers-compensation system.

That was progress, although nobody would call it a whole new day. As Jim Bray of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, puts it: “The bar was extremely low.”

* And the SJ-R blamed everything on Mike Madigan

None other than House Speaker Michael Madigan — Blagojevich’s political nemesis, we learned in his two trials — co-chaired Blagojevich’s re-election campaign. Apparently in Illinois, having a Democrat as governor was more important than having a governor unencumbered by a federal investigation.

Party leaders can make all the excuses they want for their support of Blagojevich in 2006 — he had too much money to challenge in a primary, we only nominally supported him — but it changes nothing. Given what the general public knew about the federal investigation of the administration, and given the poor record Blagojevich had in his first term, the leaders of his party should have had the courage to challenge him.

* Other stuff…

* End Of Blago Case Could Mean House Ethics Probe For Jackson Jr.

* Next up for feds: Powerbroker Bill Cellini

* Many glad to see former governor convicted

* Quinn: Blagojevich conviction ‘serious day for our state’

* Pols: Verdict allows state to move past Blagojevich

* Blagojevich called ‘a pox on Illinois politics,’ his conduct ‘reprehensible’

* Poshard’s granddaughter gives up scholarship

- Posted by Rich Miller   33 Comments      


In case you were wondering…

Tuesday, Jun 28, 2011

* We just barely missed setting a new page-view record yesterday, coming up just barely short of Rod Blagojevich’s arrest day. One reason is our new ScribbleLive software, which doesn’t require reloading the page to see updates. Without that, I’m confident we would’ve easily surpassed that crazy December day in 2008 when we were knocked offline for what seemed like an eternity.

Some folks had difficulty accessing the blog yesterday, particularly just as the jury verdict was read. Site speed did slow down quite a bit, but at least we weren’t knocked completely offline like the Sun-Times, WBEZ and others were. And if you were already on the page and watching the ScribbleLive feed, you didn’t notice a thing.

Anyway, I thought you’d like to know.

- Posted by Rich Miller   14 Comments      


Jurors restored faith in the system

Tuesday, Jun 28, 2011

* This is a fascinating insight into how the Blagojevich jury operated

Instead of private ballot, they did a “fist to five” vote, a consensus-building technique Karin Wilson [a teacher from Palatine] suggested. If a juror raised a hand with all five fingers, that meant they were leaning strongly toward guilty. A fist was innocent. If the juror was somewhere in between, the number of fingers held up gave an indication of which way she or he was leaning.

Connie Wilson said they had about four or five separate votes on each count.

* They seemed to be intelligent, calm, rational and respectful

“Everybody was very respectful,” Hubinek said. “When I think of how a jury should go, this is what I thought about.”

* And open-minded

Maribel DeLeon, a juror who often smiled at the ex-governor during his testimony, said she wanted to side with Blagojevich.

The evidence, though, did not side with him.

“I’d come in thinking, ‘OK, he’s not guilty,’ and then all of a sudden I’m like, Gosh darn you, Rod! You did it again!” said DeLeon, the mother of three. “He proved himself guilty beyond any reasonable doubt. He kept saying ‘Do it.’ ‘Push it.’ ‘Get it done.’ That’s where he crossed the line.” [..]

Another described the former politician as coming across as “personable” during parts of seven days on the stand.

“It made it hard to separate that from what we actually had to do as jurors,” said Juror 103, a bartender and self-described “weekend warrior” who pursues photography on the side.

* And just

The jury was “12 strangers” who evolved into “an amazing group of people” that should make taxpayers “proud,” the forewoman said. “They were so wanting to keep ‘innocent until proven guilty.’”

Jurors nodded in agreement as one female juror said the easiest decision was finding Blagojevich guilty of trying to peddle President Obama’s former Senate seat for his personal gain. Blagojevich’s defense lawyers contended Blagojevich’s tape-recorded comments about trading the Senate appointment for a high-powered job were just talk from a politician who liked to talk.

“Our verdict shows we did not believe it,” one juror said. She noted that Blagojevich went beyond talk because “there were several times he said, ‘Do it.’”

“There were just so many times he brought it up to people,” noted another juror.

* Watch jurors explain their verdict by clicking here. A transcript is here.

* This is a far cry from the image of juries conjured up by John Kass earlier this week

All it takes to sway a jury is one relentless personality, first going one way, then going the other, wearing down the more agreeable and placid folks.

How do I know this?

Because I was that personality (aka “that jerk”) when I performed a rather unscientific experiment in jury dynamics many years ago. […]

And I knew that [the jury forewoman] would soon come to hate me.

On the first day of deliberations, I argued against the boy and his grasping lawyers, saying we should all know this for what it was — an insurance scam. […]

But the next day, our brief meeting wasn’t brief. I dragged it out, saying I had a change of heart, because I wondered what would happen if that little boy wanted to attend the U.S. Naval Academy and fly jets? His eye injury might prevent it. […]

In one sense I was merely airing both sides of the argument, which is what jurors are supposed to do. But I was also testing how easily a jury can be manipulated. What I did was wrong, but I was always for the kid anyway, and justice was served.

Thankfully, the Blagojevich jury wasn’t interested in conducting silly experiments.

- Posted by Rich Miller   18 Comments      


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