Journalist and advice maven Margo Howard reacts to the former Illinois governor’s conviction on 17 counts, including fraud, attempted extortion and bribery
Having covered the high points of the first Blagojevich trial for The New Republic a year ago — when he was found guilty on only one of 24 counts — I was, of course, glued to my Twitter feed and CNN as I waited for the verdict from the retrial. It came on the tenth day of deliberations.
That length of time made some news people uneasy, thinking of the old legal canard that the longer they’re locked up, the better it is for the defendant. I never thought that because … there were twenty counts to consider. I don’t think it was schadenfreude that gave me satisfaction about this verdict — even though the guy was an arrogant nitwit with delusions of adequacy. I was just pleased that this jury could understand things better than the last one. Having listened to hours of Blago tapes being played, myself, I was pretty certain the former governor was guilty, and had, in fact, tried to do what he government said he tried to do: solicit bribes. In fairness, the government, from its first basic failure, had a chance to simplify and tighten its case – which it did. The prosecutors were better understood this time — using fewer counts, and driving it home that you did not need to succeed to be found guilty of trying to break the law. In other words, it was enough to put your hand out; it was not necessary for someone to put something in it.
Because Judge Zagel allowed Blago to use leftover campaign money to pay his lawyers the first time, he at least had qualified counsel, though I found them to be “deez, dems, and doze” kind of guys. I was told by local press, however, that the Adamses, pere et fils, were very effective at 26th and California – i.e., in state court. In hindsight, though I found them rather clownish, they did quite a good job, obviously, because that jury nicked Blago on only one count. Since the money had run out (in fact, late in the first trial, the Adamses and their team went to legal aid rates of $120 an hour,) this time a principal Blago lawyer was the weak sister junior lawyer from the first trial – a Mr. Goldstein. He was overseen, somewhat, by a senior lawyer named Sheldon Sorosky – the man who was Blago’s first employer and part of the first trial. Goldstein was a disaster – to the point of ignoring what Judge Zagel was telling him and sometimes earning 100+ sustained objections in a row from the government. I didn’t even go to law school and I kept thinking: This is the judge, dumbkopf, who will do the sentencing. Why are you irritating him?
I now understand, firsthand, why it is often said a smart defendant will not take the stand. Blago’s arrogance and overblown sense of self propelled him this time to get up there and talk and talk and talk, with digressions I am certain have never been heard in a courtroom before. It turned out to be a great mistake. His efforts to be ingratiating were transparent and he repeatedly did what the judge called “smuggling in” information. He was told not to get into certain subjects but he did it anyway. Hard to believe the guy’s a lawyer, himself — but as he said, trying to curry favor with the jury, “I wasn’t very good.”
In the end, he was found guilty on 17 counts of conspiracy to commit extortion, soliciting bribes, and wire fraud. Two counts were hung. (Big deal.) Jeffrey Toobin, for CNN, predicted Blago would serve six to eleven years. The Twitter people calculated 300 years. (!) He was not remanded into custody, but allowed to be out on bond until sentencing. He will be the third Illinois governor to put on an orange suit. His supposed charm failed him – though he did have his supporters. The twelve men and women of the jury, however, were not among them. Well, you know what they say: hair today, gone tomorrow.