Second Blago trial begins, Rod will be in court Thurs.

April 20, 2011 4:43:43 PM PDT
The retrial for former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich began Wednesday as more than 100 prospective jurors filled out questionnaires.

Lawyers on both sides were in standby mode on the quiet Wednesday in court. There was no actual court time set for them, and Blagojevich was not required to appear. However, he will be in court on Thursday when official jury selection begins.

While the content of the 38-page questionnaire has not yet been publicly released, it likely asks standard questions of potential jurors, and also what knowledge or perceptions they may have of the first trial.

Beginning Thursday morning, the first of those potential jurors will come into the courtroom - one at a time - and will be questioned by the judge. Then the lawyers decide who they want and who they don't.

"The government, when they are picking a jury, they want people who are analytical, logical and can work through the evidence," said Jeff Cramer, former assistant U.S. attorney.

And what might the defense be looking for?

"They're looking for people who don't trust the government. They're looking for people who think all politics is chicanery and therefore Blagojevich was doing what they all do," said Prof. Leonard Cavise, DePaul College of Law.

The reality is, though, even with a detailed questionnaire, lawyers rely on instincts and guesswork when picking a jury.

"The problem with jury selection is, it's a crapshoot. People can lie to get on juries. People can lie to get off juries. And they do," said Prof. Richard Kling, Chicago Kent College of Law.

But a retrial presents its own challenges in jury selection. What do potential jurors know about the first trial? How much attention did they pay to it? Do they know that Blagojevich was convicted on one count and the jury couldn't agree on the others? And might they have formed an opinion on the government's decision to retry?

"How do you feel about us trying him a second time? That open-ended question, however they can get that question in or answer to that, that will tell them a lot. Because that's the person who watched the first trial and has formed an opinion about what the government's up to," said Beth Foley, trial jury consultant.

This time around the defense team is without a couple familiar faces: defense attorneys Sam Adam Jr. and Sam Adam Sr.

"What's important is the client. As Sam Cooke said, change gonna come. Change gottta come," Sam Adam Jr. said.

He brought high octane to the first trial - inside the courtroom and out. Some jurors welcomed his oratory. Others were turned off by it. Sam Adam Jr. still advises the defense, but he's not part of the trial team for number two. A fresh look is good, he says, and needed. Forget the theater.

"People are tired of that. They want to get to the nuts and bolts. And there is no team better I think in the city of Chicago to get at the nuts and bolts to show Rod's innocence than Shelly, Lauren and Elliot and Aaron," said Sam Adam Jr.

Sheldon Sorosky, who will lead the former governor's defense team, is a veteran criminal lawyer, and long time Blagojevich friend. He and his colleagues have a workman-like demeanor, not given to thundering oratory.

"What's illegal about spending money on suits? Nothing," said Sorosky.

"They'll proceed in a very workman-like way by addressing portions of the testimony sequentially, chronologically in a way the jury will be able to follow, but it's just not all that sexy," said Cavise.

Tactics may change in the second trial. Theatrics certainly will.

"The perception will be that you need a big show to convince the jury. My experience is not really. At the end of the day, the jury looks at the evidence, they weight it against the law and they make a decision," said Cramer.

Many of the jurors in the first trial told ABC7 afterward that they reached their decisions on the evidence, not the show.

Opening statements could take place by the middle of next week.