CHICAGO — Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Tuesday asked a full federal appellate court in Chicago to rehear his appeal after three judges recently overturned five of his 18 corruption convictions.
The imprisoned Democrat’s lawyers filed the request with the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, saying there are uniquely important legal issues the entire bench should consider, including just where the line lies between legal and illegal political horse-trading.
The three-judge panel threw out convictions linked to Blagojevich’s attempt to land a post in President Barack Obama’s Cabinet in exchange for appointing an Obama adviser to the president’s old U.S. Senate seat.
It also ordered that the 58-year-old be resentenced. But the ruling said the original 14-year sentence might be considered fair even after subtracting the five overturned counts. So, Blagojevich’s chances of a drastically reduced sentence seem slim.
Blagojevich is hoping the full court will overturn more counts, boosting his chances of shaving significant time from his stint behind bars.
The 7th Circuit only agrees to have the full court rehear a case a few times per year. For Blagojevich’s case to be reheard, a majority of the nine active judges must vote in favor of the request within the next 14 days. One question judges will consider when deciding whether to vote for a full rehearing is whether critical legal issues are at stake. Blagojevich’s new filing insists that is the case.
A central focus of the three-judge panel’s opinion on Blagojevich — released on July 21 — was precisely the question of when an elected official crosses the line between legal and illegal politicking.
The three judges said the determining factor was money. They said Blagojevich crossed the line into illegality when he sought cash for naming someone to Obama’s old Senate seat or in exchange for other official gubernatorial action. But they said he didn’t cross the line by asking for a Cabinet seat for himself. Secretly trading favors based on politicians’ executive powers is legal and is a legitimate mechanism for getting things done for constituents, they concluded.
Some critics have said the opinion went too far in declaring back-room deals legal.
The three judges said the evidence against Blagojevich was “overwhelming” on the convictions they upheld and that those convictions — including extortion and bribery conspiracy.
After his 2008 arrest, Blagojevich became the butt of jokes on late-night TV for his well-coiffed hair and his foul-mouthed rants on FBI wiretaps. In one, he crows about the Senate seat: “I’ve got this thing and it’s f—— golden. And I’m just not giving it up for f—— nothing.”