Judge puts Blagojevich jury search in high gear
CHICAGO (AP) - June 7, 2010 -- The judge in the corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich questioned more than a dozen prospective jurors Monday, ranging from a TV talk show host to an insurance man with a dim view of politicians, in hopes of quickly getting to opening statements.Blagojevich listened intently as U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel asked the latest batch of prospective jurors - who came after about 60 questioned last week - if they could give a fair trial to the 53-year-old who was impeached and booted out of office in 2009.
The former governor had arrived Monday telling reporters he was glad to be back in court after a weekend away because "this is the place where we can finally get the truth out."
"For the past year and a half, Patti and I have had to live through false accusations and lies," Blagojevich said, hand in hand with his wife, Patti Blagojevich, as he entered the courthouse.
Blagojevich has pleaded not guilty to scheming to get a payoff in exchanging for filling the U.S. Senate seat President Barack Obama vacated after his November 2008 election. He also denies charges that he plotted to leverage his power as governor into a moneymaking enterprise.
His brother, Robert Blagojevich, 54, a Nashville, Tenn., businessman, has pleaded not guilty to taking part in the alleged plot to sell or trade the Senate seat and scheming to pressure a racetrack owner illegally for a hefty campaign contribution.
Zagel has been hoping to get to opening statements on Tuesday and gave no sign Monday that he sees an obstacle to doing so - although he did say he wants to get a few extra potential jurors in the available pool to be on the safe side. The judge said as he got under way Monday that they need to have at least 40 prospective jurors before picking the final panel.
A number of the potential jurors interviewed over the last three court days have already been dismissed for reasons ranging from possible bias on their part to inability to understand what was being said, either because of hearing problems or a weak grasp of the English language.
Among those questioned Monday were a middle-aged insurance underwriter who had said on his pretrial questionnaire that he believed some politicians care about "the public good." He said most, though, are motivated by "ego, control, power and money." But he said that wouldn't stop him from giving Blagojevich a fair trial.
Also questioned were a former bank chairman, an inventory clerk in a book company, a college student who had worked in the state comptroller's office and made political donations, a state welfare worker, a marketing account executive, a nanny, an insurance broker, a woman who likes to do flower arrangements and an administrative assistant who listens only to Christian radio stations.
Once Zagel has dismissed those jurors he deems unsuitable, both prosecutors and defense attorneys will exercise their so-called peremptory challenges - jurors they can rule out without giving any explanation. The defense has 13 such challenges and the prosecution nine.
rod blagojevich, national/world
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