Courts - Illinois Blagojevich lawyers: Judge erred in jury selection, hundreds dismissed for hardship Defense has appealed to Supreme Court Justice Stevens

By Mike Robinson

AP Legal Affairs Writer

CHICAGO (AP) -- Lawyers for former Gov. Rod Blagojevich say the judge presiding over his corruption case made a mistake in dismissing large numbers of potential jurors for hardship reasons without consulting either the prosecution or the defense.

The attorneys said in court papers filed late Tuesday that as many as 300 potential jurors may have been dismissed through federal Judge James B. Zagel's unilateral "hardship screening" process, and asked him to "begin jury selection anew."

Blagojevich has pleaded not guilty to charges that he schemed to profit from his power to appoint someone to President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat. He also denies illegally pressuring potential campaign donors. His brother, Nashville businessman Robert Blagojevich, has pleaded not guilty to helping him.

Their trial is scheduled to begin June 3 with jury selection. The process already under way is a pre-screening in which potential jurors filled out questionnaires that asked about the possible hardship of sitting through a trial that attorneys estimate will last three to four months.

U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Randall Samborn had no comment on the motion. Blagojevich's attorneys Sheldon Sorosky and Samuel E. Adam did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

The jury issue is likely to come up at a Thursday hearing before Zagel.

Blagojevich's attorneys have already gone to Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens in hopes of delaying the trial briefly, having been turned down by both Zagel and a federal appeals court.

They say it would be unfair to start until the Supreme Court rules next month on the constitutionality of a federal law that makes it illegal for public officials to deprive taxpayers of their "honest services." Critics say the law is too vague.

A number of the charges against Blagojevich are based on the honest services law.

Stevens gave the defense a glimmer of hope by asking the federal government to respond to the defense request by submitting a brief no later than Friday.

Published: Thu, May 27, 2010