Blagojevich's attorneys ask for mistrial

  • Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's defense attorneys asked for a mistrial on Monday, two days before they are to begin calling their first witnesses.

    Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's defense attorneys asked for a mistrial on Monday, two days before they are to begin calling their first witnesses. Associated Press file photo

Associated Press
Updated 5/24/2011 12:21 AM

Rod Blagojevich's attorneys asked a judge Monday for a mistrial in the ousted Illinois governor's corruption retrial, arguing that the government has blocked their client's right to confront his accusers and that the burden of proof has been improperly shifted to the defense. The request for a mistrial came in a motion filed with U.S. District Court, two days before Blagojevich's attorneys are to begin calling their first witnesses Wednesday. Prosecutors rested their three-week-long case last week. Blagojevich, who has denied wrongdoing, faces 20 charges, including trying to sell or trade President Barack Obama's old U.S. Senate seat. Hung jurors at his first trial last year could agree on only one count, convicting Blagojevich of lying to the FBI. The defense has said it will call prominent people to testify who have previously been subpoenaed. That means the potential witnesses could include Chicago's new Mayor Rahm Emanuel, White House adviser Valerie Jarrett and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. Blagojevich himself could also take the stand. Emanuel declined to say Monday if he was going to testify. "I'm ready, if asked, to answer questions as I was in the first trial and this trial I'll answer questions if I'm asked to," Emanuel said at an unrelated news conference. One of the allegations against Blagojevich is that he wanted to withhold a $2 million grant for a school in Emanuel's Chicago district when Emanuel was in Congress, unless Emanuel's Hollywood-agent brother held a fundraiser for Blagojevich. The school eventually got its money and no fundraiser was held. Emanuel didn't testify at Blagojevich's first trial and hasn't been accused of any wrongdoing. Judge James Zagel said during an in-court meeting Monday to discuss jury instructions that he would rule on the mistrial motion later. He didn't specify when. Such motions on the grounds that prosecutors failed to prove their case are common. But Blagojevich goes further in alleging numerous mistakes by the government and judge. The filing points to hundreds of objections by prosecutors during defense cross-examinations, and Zagel agreeing with nearly all of them. "The defense has been unable to ask questions that go to the heart of witness' biases and motives to fabricate, lie or provide untruthful testimony," it says. Neither prosecutors nor Zagel addressed any of those defense complaints Monday. During government testimony, Zagel repeatedly admonished the defense for making arguments to jurors in the form of questions to witnesses. Monday's motion says it was "prejudicial and improper" for Zagel to repeatedly tell defense attorneys in the jurors' presence that they could ask the more argumentative questions of their own witnesses but not of the government's. The inability of defense lawyers to ask witnesses questions they hoped to ask, the filing adds, has "shifted the burden of proof" from the government to Blagojevich "to unconstitutionally force the defense to put on evidence." At the first trial, the defense chose not to call any witnesses.