Questioning of prospective jurors has concluded in the retrial of Rod Blagojevich, but U.S. District Judge James Zagel is giving the lawyers the weekend to mull their cuts before 12 jurors and six alternates are picked.
Three more made it past the initial cuts today, pushing the total of available jurors well over 40. The lawyers are expected to use their peremptory challenges Monday morning to finalize the jury. Opening statements could then be given the same day.
The lawyers clashed briefly over Juror 213, an African-American woman whom Zagel wound up cutting because she was busy trying to run a medical transport company and has two sons with felony convictions whom she is trying to keep out of further trouble.
Blagojevich’s attorney, Sheldon Sorosky, grew upset because the woman was only one of two prospective jurors to note on written questionnaires that Blagojevich was innocent until proven guilty. Sorosky said he thought maybe the government was fearful of that opinion and pointed out the woman was a "person of color."
Assistant U.S. Atty. Reid Schar reacted strongly to any insinuation that race was a factor in the selection process.
"I don't know what it is with Mr. Sorosky today, but the attacks on the government aren't getting us anywhere," Schar said.
Zagel said he did not believe race was a factor in the government's request that the woman be bounced by the judge.
1:49 p.m. Jury selection to last until Monday
The semifinals of the jury selection process in the Rod Blagojevich corruption retrial should be done today, but U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel has put off the final round until Monday, the same day he earlier announced that opening statements were likely to begin.
Zagel has been questioning prospects to sit on the panel for four days now but said this would be the last day for that process. He told prosecution and defense lawyers they would get Friday and the weekend to mull over which of the potential jurors they wanted to bounce using peremptory challenges that give them latitude to reject jurors.
The prosecution gets nine such challenges while the defense gets 13, a key reason why the pool of jury prospects has to be large. In the end, 18 jurors will listen to the case, including six alternates.
The selection process has been slow because many of those being called appear to have conflicts, either personal or financial, which led the judge to drop them from further consideration.
One man questioned Thursday, identified only as juror 206, was part owner of a small masonry repair and restoration business. Under questioning by Zagel, the man said his firm had once filed a $23,000 lien against a Chicago city contractor for work done.
Number 206 did not identify the contractor but said the owner was someone who appeared to think the “rules apply to other people.” He also said the man had been a close friend of Blagojevich, who had since died.
That description appears to fit Christopher Kelly, a top Blagojevich fundraiser and roofing contractor with extensive city contracts who committed suicide in 2009 just days from reporting to prison for federal convictions.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun