Blagojevich trial to begin Thursday

June 2, 2010 7:21:11 AM PDT
The trial of former governor Rod Blagojevich begins Thursday. Experts differ about whether his outspoken behavior since he was arrested a year and a half ago may help or hurt him in the eyes of the jury.

Each of the jurors in the Blagojevich trial will be assigned a number. In order to protect them from outside influence, the judge has ordered that their names not be made public until trial's end. The questionnaires they fill out will also be kept under seal.

Juror questionnaires ask about family and job history, and in a case like this, political involvement and opinion. They are critical to one of the most important parts of any trial -- jury selection.

In two days, Judge James Zagel will begin the process of selecting a jury.

The presumption going in is that most - if not all - the prospective jurors will have some impression of the ex-governor and the case against him. The challenge for the judge and lawyers on both sides is finding how deeply held those impressions may be.

"If I were doing the questioning, I'd certainly go in depth in terms of what did you read, when did you read it, what impression did it have on you, and it continues to have an impression on you doesn't it," said Prof. Richard Kling, Kent College of Law.

"Some judges will say, 'I'm not even going to try to unpeel the onion. I'm gonna ask some general questions, can you look them in the eye, can you be fair? Can you put these things aside?'" said Patrick Collins, former assistant U.S. attorney.

In this case, there are many things. Unlike ex-governor George Ryan who did a limited number of carefully scripted interviews before his trial, Rod Blagojevich has never stopped talking. He's written a book. He has a publicist and has challenged the U.S attorney to meet in him court. He has also hosted a radio show, and has been all over TV.

"It's good TV. It's good hype now. In the federal courtroom it won't matter," said Beth Foley, veteran trial consultant.

Foley believes the Blagojevich media blitz has done him no good.

"If this was a political campaign, it might have been good for him - would have personalized him - people get to know him, but it's not gonna help him in a jury trial. It's gonna hurt his credibility. It already has," said Foley.

Others though see Blagojevich's tactics differently.

"I think if anything it reinforces his image as a colorful, unpredictable individual who's out there trying to irritate people, to excite people in different ways, and that may explain some of the behavior that is caught on tape," said Prof. Harold Krent, dean, Kent College of Law .

"I watched the Trump show. I thought it hurt him. I talked to some of my students, some of whom thought this is a sympathetic guy. He's not such a bad guy. So it really depends on who you talk to and where you're coming from," said Kling.

The defense strategy throughout has been to stay high profile, repeat the mantras - "the truth will come out", "play all the tapes." Potential jurors may have heard that, but they haven't heard the evidence. Selecting a jury that will is part science, part gut instinct.

"A lot of what the parties and the public will be relying on is Judge Zagel's experience and wisdom in putting a jury together because I think, frankly, we have to do that," said Collins.

The Blagojevich defense team is unhappy with how the jury selection process has been laid out. All the lawyers have a hearing before Judge Zagel on that Wednesday morning.

In general terms, the defense lawyers will be looking to pick jurors who may tend to lean blue collar, more apt to accept a populist message, and skeptical of the power of prosecutors. The government will be looking for law-and-order jurors more inclined to see the charges as crimes and not politics as usual.


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