CHICAGO (Reuters) - The defense attorney for former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was criticized by a federal judge on Monday for “non-factual descriptions” and arguments deemed inadmissible in questioning witnesses.
After sustaining more than 150 objections made by federal prosecutors during the retrial of Blagojevich that began on April 20, District Judge James Zagel admonished Blagojevich defense attorney Aaron Goldstein directly.
“If you are going to make a defense, make a defense. Don’t nibble around the edges with stuff that’s inadmissible,” Zagel told the lawyer after the jury had left the courtroom late on Monday afternoon.
“The truth is, if you continue to do this I will sit you down,” Zagel told Goldstein.
Blagojevich is on trial for a second time on 20 charges including bribery, extortion, conspiracy and wire fraud.
Prosecutors allege that he tried to trade the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by President Barack Obama for a Cabinet post or campaign donations, and tried to leverage donations or favors for other official acts as governor.
His first trial ended in August with the jury convicting him of a single count of lying to federal investigators. The jury deadlocked on the other charges.
On Monday, prosecutors continually objected to Goldstein’s cross-examination of their first witness, John Harris, who was Blagojevich’s chief of staff from 2005 until he and Blagojevich were arrested in December 2008.
Harris testified last week that Blagojevich cursed when Obama, after indicating he wanted his friend and supporter Valerie Jarrett appointed to his Senate seat, was “not willing to give me anything but appreciation.”
Blagojevich floated jobs like a cabinet post, an ambassadorship or running a political action committee funded by rich Obama backers, according to Harris and FBI recordings of conversations submitted as testimony.
Goldstein told Harris, who reached a plea agreement with prosecutors in which he agreed to testify while admitting to bribery conspiracy: “In an effort not to talk, you lied.”
Zagel chastised Goldstein during cross-examination, saying it was only admissible for Harris to testify to things he had witnessed, not things he was generally aware of.
“The instructions as to what is the law are given by me,” Zagel told Goldstein, adding that “non factual descriptions of any evidence of the kind you want doesn’t go in” and is “in violation of my order.”
Goldstein also pressed Harris on alleged efforts to bolster the career of Blagojevich’s wife Patti, who sat in the court room on Monday with a legal pad keeping a tally of Zagel’s objections.
“Did the Governor ever mention campaign fund raising?” Goldstein asked regarding racetrack legislation Blagojevich considered in 2008. “No, he did not use those specific words,” Harris said.
Prosecutors’ objections continued with Goldstein’s questioning of a second witness, Tom Balanoff, a local union leader who acted as a political intermediary.
Prosecutor Reid Schar asked Balanoff to walk the court through a series of conversations and meetings he had with Blagojevich regarding the possible appointees to the senate post, including Jarrett, and what he wanted in exchange.
“He was telling me that if this 501(c)(4) could be set up...with contributions from a couple billionaires,” Balanoff said. “He actually mentioned 10 or 15 million dollars put into it...He was clearly connecting, at least in my mind, if this could be set up then Valerie Jarrett could become a senator.”
Goldstein then pressed Balanoff about how he responded.
“After this meeting did you call the authorities?”
Zagel told Goldstein that the defense can’t build on the proposition that because Balanoff didn’t go to the authorities after meetings he had with Blagojevich that “no crime had been committed.”
Editing by Peter Bohan