August 26, 2010 / 6:53 PM / 7 years ago

Blagojevich retrial likely to start early January

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The retrial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich on corruption charges will likely begin in the first week of January, U.S. District Judge James Zagel said on Thursday.

This month Blagojevich was found guilty of making false statements, but jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict on 23 other charges against him.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar said in court that the government was dropping charges against the former governor’s brother Robert Blagojevich given the “disparity in the roles” of the two defendants.

“But we absolutely intend to proceed with the retrial of ... Rod Blagojevich,” he added.

The former governor faced 24 counts in the wide-ranging corruption case including racketeering, conspiracy, mail fraud and attempted extortion. The allegations against Blagojevich included an attempt to sell or barter the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama.

Zagel asked Blagojevich’s defense lawyers to compile a list of the defendant’s assets and liabilities to see if he can afford a retrial. If he is found indigent, Zagel said the law would allow the court to pay for two lawyers and a paralegal, which the judge said should be enough since the case probably will be largely a rehash of the first trial.

Blagojevich lawyer Sheldon Sorosky argued that even with a larger team of lawyers, the former governor’s case in the first trial against the government was a battle akin to “David versus Goliath.”

“Instead of a slingshot, this David had his band of lawyers,” he said.

Judge Zagel responded dryly that with his large team of defense lawyers, Blagojevich, 53, a Democrat ousted from office last year during his second term by the state Legislature, “looked more like Goliath.”

Prosecutors have said Blagojevich and his aides operated the state as a money machine by wringing campaign donations out of people doing business with the state.

His defense lawyers portrayed him as a talkative bumbler who was given bad advice but never received any illegal funds. In a surprise decision during the trial, Blagojevich opted not testify even after months of loudly declaring that he would take the stand in his own defense.

Obama and some senior White House staffers played a peripheral role in the case, which was built on FBI wiretaps.

After the hearing on Thursday, Blagojevich lawyer Sam Adam

Sr said the defense team would decide what to do after conferring with Blagojevich.

“We’re going to do whatever the governor thinks best,” he said, adding that with a team of just two lawyers compared to 15 the first time around, this would be a very different case.

The next hearing in the case is set for Sept 9.

Editing by Jackie Frank

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