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posted: 7/19/2010 12:01 AM

Blago's trial: a few observations

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For true connoisseurs of Illinois/Chicago politics the Rod Blagojevich trial is the greatest show on earth. I have witnessed a good chunk of the proceedings and would like to share briefly my notes and reflections.

The prosecution: the three assistant U.S. attorneys presenting the case are almost zombielike in their demeanor and professionalism. They never smile - or even grin - during breaks, and they do not talk even to each other. However, their questions are sharp, to the point and always judicially correct.

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The defense: led by the Adams family - Sam and Sam Jr. - and Sheldon Sirosky. They, especially Adams Jr., are the opposite of the prim and proper prosecutors. Their defense is a high-wire act - cajoling witnesses, playing to the jury and many times truly ticking off the judge. During breaks, these folks walk and talk, laugh and chortle with each other as well as with the media and the public.

The judge: James Zagel, a no-nonsense jurist who presided over the Family Secrets trial. Unlike in that high-profile case, Zagel looks tired and irritable. In lawyer status terms, Blagojevich's in-your-face defense team are 26th-and-Cal guys (criminal court) while the judge is used to more staid and traditional Dirksen Federal Building attorneys.

The defendants: of course there's former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. He looks and sounds like he doesn't have a care in the world. He's in campaign mode as he schmoozes with everyone except the prosecution team. As for the evidence, much publicity has been given to the tapes' language, but what truly strikes me is the silliness of the content. Blagojevich comes off in many of these conversations as a modern day Ralph Kramden, Jackie Gleason's "Honeymooners" character who constantly schemed to make a quick buck or get a promotion but was never able to pull it off (e.g. glow-in-the-dark wallpaper).

It astounds me that the former governor honestly believed that President-elect Barack Obama would ever consider him for a Cabinet or diplomatic post, given Blagojevich's Illinois baggage.

Oh, yes, Blago's brother Robert is also a defendant, but he is hardly noticeable.

The evidence: follow the money. So much of the government's case hinges on intent because most of the well-publicized schemes never reached fruition.

The jurors: they are trying to pay attention, but at times many seem adrift. They get most interested when Sam Adams Jr. is cross-examining a witness with his rapid-fire and emotional delivery - though he is often interrupted by prosecutors' objections, which are almost always sustained by Zagel.

What to look for: two things, though given potential big-name defense witnesses this trial could move in many directions.

1) Blagojevich's testimony. The whole case may ride on his witness stand performance, particularly how he holds up under the expected all-out counterattack from the prosecution. His freedom rides on his believability.

After court recesses for the day a media frenzy often takes place in the Dirksen lobby. Like thirsty puppies, reporters wait to lap up tidbits from the defense. On one day, I asked the former governor is he ready for this momentous moment in his life; his reply was a simple but confident "yes!"

2) Judge Zagel's final instructions to the jury. My lawyer pals have informed me that in a case like this the judge's words often have great impact on tired jurors' minds.

If I were the defense team, I would worry a lot about No. 2.

• Paul Green is director of the Institute for Politics at Roosevelt University in Chicago and Schaumburg.

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