Judge sets Blagojevich trial to start on schedule

Judge James Zagel dismissed a pair of 11th-hour motions by the Blagojevich defense team to delay the trial today and set the corruption case for jury selection to begin Thursday.

Michael Ettinger, defense attorney for former governor Rod Blagojevich's brother Robert, objected to the many prospective jurors already being dismissed by Zagel because they cited the potential hardship of attending a trial that could last four months. Lawyers for Rod Blagojevich objected to belated discovery from prosecutors, but Zagel ruled against both objections and set the trial to start on schedule Thursday.

Zagel sent out a questionnaire to about 400 potential jurors, and has already excused about 260. With another stack of potential jurors set aside, he said today he has "almost 100" ready to appear for jury selection.

Working from a more extensive questionnaire those potential jurors were completing this week, Zagel said he expects to question up to 34 prospective jurors a day. With the defense allowed 13 pre-emptory challenges and prosecutors nine, Zagel said it was unlikely they'd arrive at a jury in a day or two, and that three or four days were more likely.

Although he's set the trial on a schedule for four days a week, Monday through Thursday, Zagel said jury selection will continue this week on Friday.

Sheldon Sorosky, defense attorney for Rod Blagojevich, agreed that three or four days would "probably" do the job.

"I think we'll get a jury faster than people think," he said. He said the defense was looking only for "fair and impartial jurors."

Sorosky said the defense is hoping to get a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court on the "honest services" statute before delivering opening statements.

"We'd certainly like to have one before the trial," he said, "so we know what charges we face and what charges we don't face."

The Blagojevich indictment charges racketeering, extortion, bribery and conspiracy as well as depriving the public of "honest services" in the corruption case. A ruling by the high court on honest services is expected this month and could come as soon as Monday.

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