CHICAGO (AP) — An appeals court in Chicago took just three days to reject a request from imprisoned former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich for another sentencing hearing, agreeing his 14-year prison term for corruption was a stiff punishment but was well within the sentencing judge’s discretion.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ unanimous Friday ruling also dismissed arguments that Judge James Zagel should have shortened the prison term in August because of Blagojevich’s good behavior mentoring follow inmates and even putting together a band, “The Jailhouse Rockers.”
The defeat dashes one of the 60-year-old’s last hopes of winning his freedom anytime soon. It’s rare for rulings to be posted so quickly — an indication the judges considered this an easy decision. The Supreme Court in 2016 refused to take up a broader Blagojevich appeal and is unlikely to agree to hear one focused on sentencing.
“We’re incredibly disappointed and sad,” Blagojevich attorney Leonard Goodman said Friday. He said he’ll have to talk to Blagojevich before deciding any next steps.
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One option would be to lobby President Donald Trump for clemency. Blagojevich was on Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” TV show in 2010 as he awaited trial. While Trump eventually “fired” Blagojevich as a contestant, he praised Blagojevich for how he fought his criminal case, telling him, “You have a hell of a lot of guts.”
At Blagojevich’s initial 2011 sentencing, Zagel berated the former Democratic governor, saying he had “disfigured” Illinois, including by trying to trade an appointment to former President Barack Obama’s old Senate seat for campaign cash. He then imposed the longest sentence for public corruption in Illinois history — 14 years.
The three-judge panel’s written opinion concedes a different trial judge could have calculated sentencing guidelines differently and settled on a lesser punishment. But, the six-page ruling adds, “the fact that a judge could have ruled otherwise does not imply that (Judge Zagel) was compelled to rule otherwise.”
The 7th Circuit in 2015 tossed five of 18 convictions and ordered Zagel to resentence Blagojevich. But in August, Zagel imposed the same 14-year term. That led to the current appeal, about which oral arguments were heard Tuesday.
The panel rejected arguments that Zagel should have placed greater weight on 100 letters from fellow inmates who described how Blagojevich taught history and served as a life coach to prisoners. More relevant to a sentence, panelists said, was what the two-term governor did before his 2008 arrest.
“Blagojevich’s treatment of fellow inmates may show that outside of office he is an admirable person, but the court was entitled to impose punishment that reflects how Blagojevich behaved when he had a different menu of opportunities and to deter those who hold office today,” the ruling says.
Federal inmates must serve at least 85 percent of their sentences, making Blagojevich’s estimated released date May 2024. By then, he will have served about 12 years and will be 67 years old.
Follow Michael Tarm on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mtarm