Tales from the Trail

No head-butting, judge tells Blagojevich

April 21, 2010

No head-butting, no fighting, no macho posturing, the judge overseeing former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s upcoming corruption trial said on Wednesday.USA-BLAGOJEVICH/

If the federal courtroom is sounding more like a boxing ring, the disgraced politician suggested as much. On Tuesday Blagojevich called out prosecutor U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, telling reporters “I hope you’re man enough to be there (in court) tomorrow too.”

Blagojevich adopted a calmer tone after Judge James Zagel told both sides he alone would decide which evidence would be heard and that he would “not permit the legal equivalent of head-butting.”

Boxing matches have rules, just like trials, the judge said, noting combatants can retreat to a neutral corner.

“I’m relieved,”  Blagojevich said. “The judge appears to be a very fair man.”

Blagojevich, indicted and ousted from office last year, says he is innocent of trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama and other charges. He urged anyone willing to listen to judge him based on a hearing of all the government’s tape recordings of him while he was in office. He says he was engaged in “political horse-trading” and nothing more.

Zagel said he would determine how many of the roughly 500 hours of court-approved tapes would be heard. “The rules are determined by the referee. I’m the referee. I decide,” Zagel said.

Prosecutors have asked the judge to prevent the defense from arguing during the trial that not all the tapes were being played. In a recent filing, prosecutors also said Blagojevich’s wife, Patti, received thousands of dollars in real estate commissions without doing any work, though she has not been charged.

“Those are fighting words,” Blagojevich’s attorney Sam Adam Sr. said. “If you attack Patti, that’s it… . We had to hold him (Blagojevich) back.” Blagojevich had reacted by calling prosecutors “liars and cowards.”

Fitzgerald was not in court on Wednesday. His spokesman had no comment.

The fight, er, trial, is set to begin June 3.

Photo credit: Reuters/Jeff Haynes (Blagojevich addresses reporters at a news conference in Chicago in December 2008)

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