One prospective juror for the corruption trial of Rod Blagojevich said her familiarity with the former governor was limited to TV wisecracks she heard from Jay Leno.
"He was a joke or something," the woman said.
Another potential juror is a labor organizer who spent months in Minnesota in 2008 working on the U.S. Senate campaign of Democrat Al Franken. She too confessed that most of what she knew about the longtime Illinois chief executive could be summed up by his recent TV appearance on "Celebrity Apprentice."
Ever since Blagojevich's arrest in December 2008, his legal troubles and grandstanding have been a subject of saturation news coverage as well as merciless lampooning from critics and comedians. Even so, a large share of those being sized up for the jury by U.S. District Judge James Zagel told him their understanding of the governor and his troubles was surface at best.
All of which goes to underscore a strangely symbiotic relationship between Illinois' often ridiculed political culture and the very busy legal system aimed at rooting out corruption. Impartial juries require members who don't know much about the defendants whose fate they will weigh. And it is surprisingly easy, even in the highest profile of cases, to find jurors who fit that description.
Americans may say they are in a "throw-the-bums-out" mood when it comes to politics and are fed up with stalemate and self-dealing. For all the complaints, however, the fact remains that few voters spend much time closely scrutinizing what the elected officials they put into office do.
As for the Blagojevich defense team, an ideal juror would be someone who has not been "following this stuff intently from day one," said Charles N. Wheeler III, a political expert at the University of Illinois Springfield.
"I assume what they're looking for is somebody to sympathize with him," Wheeler said of Blagojevich's lawyers, "somebody who responds to his story, the presentation of him as being just a regular guy who got railroaded by sinister forces and that this is all some vast conspiracy against him while he was really out there doing good for the people."
Zagel has spent two days interviewing dozens of juror prospects and will continue the process when the trial reconvenes Monday. It will likely be Tuesday before opening statements and testimony get under way.
To be sure, some prospective jurors made it clear they had followed the case closely, and a few admitted to already having formed an opinion.
"I already believe Blagojevich to be guilty," one young man, an advertising coordinator for the Chicago Reader, wrote on a pretrial questionnaire he and others in the jury pool were asked to fill out.
Under questioning from Zagel, however, the man said he could dispense with that notion and decide the case on the merits of evidence presented in the courtroom. That promise was good enough for Zagel, who let the man remain in the running for selection to the jury, over the objections of defense lawyers.
More typical were the comments of a female juror candidate identified during the proceedings as No. 119. The woman, who works in investment accounting, said she is an avid runner whose main source of printed information was the magazine Runners World.
Asked by Zagel if she kept up on the news, the woman said no.
"I don't have time," she explained. "I have two daughters, and we don't have cable."
Tribune reporter Rick Pearson contributed to this report