By Michael Tarm
CHICAGO — Attorneys for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich urged an appellate panel Tuesday to grant him a third sentencing hearing, arguing their client’s behavior in prison justifies sharply reducing his 14-year term for corruption.
Ilana Diamond Rovner, one of the three 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges who heard the arguments, suggested Blagojevich might have gotten a lesser sentence from a different trial judge.
A prosecutor told the panel that lower court Judge James Zagel was right to stand by the original sentence because Blagojevich, 60, has never admitted serious wrongdoing.
“There’s nothing anywhere where the defendant says, ‘I apologize for putting my own personal interests ahead of the interests of the public I was charged with serving,'” Debra Bonamici said.
Zagel berated the Illinois Democrat during the original 2011 sentencing, saying he had “torn and disfigured” Illinois, including by seeking to trade an appointment to former President Barack Obama’s old Senate seat for campaign cash.
Blagojevich, a one-time contestant on Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice,” didn’t attend the hearing, though his wife, Patti, did. A ruling is expected within several weeks.
Outside court later Tuesday, Blagojevich attorney Leonard Goodman said an unqualified apology would contradict his client’s position that he never crossed legal lines.
“He likes to quote Voltaire, who said: ‘It’s dangerous to be right when the government is wrong,'” Goodman said. “The government wants him to apologize for crimes he didn’t commit.”
After the 7th Circuit tossed five of the 18 convictions in 2015, Zagel was ordered to resentence Blagojevich. When he did last August, he imposed the same 14-year sentence.
“I will grant you that Mr. Blagojevich has conducted himself admirably in prison and perhaps this is something that a different judge would give more weight to,” Rovner said.
Rovner also asked Blagojevich attorney Michael Nash if Zagel was obliged to factor in laudable behavior by Blagojevich. Nash said his objection was that “Zagel dismissed it out of hand.”
The current appeal, filed in December, says Zagel should have put greater weight on 100 letters from fellow inmates who described how Blagojevich taught history and served as a life coach to prisoners. He even formed a prison band called “The Jailhouse Rockers.”