Illinois Public Media News
Jurors at the retrial of ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich have begun deliberating.
Judge James Zagel told lawyers during a hearing on Friday that he was giving jurors copies of jury instructions so they could start. Closing arguments wrapped up Thursday.
The judge also told attorneys he couldn't guess how long the jury might take to reach a decision.
At the first trial, jurors took two weeks and then deadlocked on all but one charge.
There are 20 counts against the former governor at the second trial.
Even before jurors can get into the nitty-gritty of the charges, they have other business to finish. That would include electing a foreman and organizing the hundreds of notebooks they likely filled during six weeks of testimony.
The political corruption case against ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is now in the hands of jurors again.
For the second time, a jury will try to reach a verdict on corruption charges. They include allegations that Blagojevich sought to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat and tried to shake down executives by threatening state decisions that would hurt their businesses.
Jurors heard the prosecution describe Blagojevich as an audacious schemer who lied to their faces on the witness stand. The defense countered that the government only showed that Blagojevich talks a lot.
"He didn't get a dime, a nickel, a penny . . . nothing," defense attorney Aaron Goldstein shouted just feet from the jury box. Turning to point at Blagojevich, Goldstein added that the trial "isn't about anything but nothing."
At one point during Goldstein's more than two-hour closing, Blagojevich's wife, Patti, began to sob on a courtroom bench, wiping tears from her cheek.
Pacing the crowded courtroom and sometimes pounding his fist on a lectern, Goldstein echoed what Blagojevich said during seven days on the stand - that his conversations captured on FBI wiretap recordings were mere brainstorming.
"You heard a man thinking out loud, on and on and on," he said. "He likes to talk, and he does talk, and that's him. And that's all you heard."
"They want you to believe his talk is a crime - it's not," Goldstein added, casting a look at three prosecutors sitting nearby.
Lead prosecutor Reid Schar balked at that argument, telling jurors in his rebuttal - the last word to jurors - that Blagojevich went way beyond talk.
"He made decisions over and over, and took actions over and over," he said.
He also mocked Blagojevich for testifying that he didn't mean his apparent comments on wiretaps about pressuring businessmen for cash or other favors.
"There's one person, this guy," Schar said, indicating Blagojevich, "whose words don't mean what they mean."
Blagojevich, 54, is accused of seeking to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat and trying to shake down executives by threatening state decisions that would hurt their businesses.
Blagojevich did not take the stand in his first trial last year, which ended with a hung jury. That panel agreed on just a single count - that he lied to the FBI about how involved he was in fundraising as governor.
Goldstein also took issue with prosecutors likening Blagojevich to a corrupt traffic cop tapping on drivers' windows to demand bribes to rip up speeding tickets.
"The hypothetical makes no sense," he said. A police officer can't ever ask for cash, but "a politician has a right to ask for campaign contributions."
Jurors sat rapt as Goldstein whispered, yelled and moved around the room, but appeared to take fewer notes compared to when the prosecutor spoke.
Blagojevich appeared glum as a prosecutor spoke, picking constantly at his fingernails. He perked up and nodded in agreement at his own attorney.
As he entered the courthouse earlier, a fan shouted at him, "I love you." Blagojevich beamed and walked over to give her a kiss on the cheek. He joked with an aspiring attorney nearby, "I'm going to hire you for my next case."
Goldstein applauded Blagojevich for testifying, saying "it took courage to walk up there" to the witness stand.
"A man charged does not have to prove a thing," Goldstein said. "That man did not have to go up there, did not have to testify."
In contrast, he said many of the government witnesses had agreed to testify under the threat of prosecution or longer prison sentences.
For her part, prosecutor Carrie Hamilton tried to assume the role of professor and jurors' best friend - speaking in simple terms as she went through each charge and clicking on a mouse to display explanatory charts, complete with bullet points and arrows.
Hamilton said that despite Blagojevich's denials, the evidence - including the FBI recordings - proves he used his power as governor to benefit himself.
"What he is saying to you now is not borne out anywhere on the recordings that you have," Hamilton said, urging jurors to listen to the wiretaps.
"There's one person in the middle of it - the defendant," she said, pointing at Blagojevich. "What you hear is a sophisticated man ... trying to get things for himself."
Hamilton told jurors Blagojevich could remember intricate details of his life but not whether he did or didn't do something related to an alleged scheme.
"He suddenly has amnesia on things that hurt him," she said.
After jurors at the first trial said prosecutors' case was too hard to follow, they sharply streamlined it. Prosecutors called about 15 witnesses this time - about half the number from last time. They also asked them fewer questions and rarely strayed onto topics not directly related to the charges.
(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
A new tradition of fresh produce starts up again in Champaign Thursday.
It's the 3rd year for the Farmer's Market on North First Street. Manager Wendy Langacker says the sales of meats, fruits, crafts, and fresh cut flowers has served as an economic boon to the area, a part of town once considered a food desert when the North First Street Association was formed.
"They figured that one way to kind of kill two birds with one stone was to have a farmer's market," said Langacker. "So it would not only bring potential customers for their business by bringing them to the market and having them see the area, but it also would bring fresh, healty food to the people in that area."
Langacker says one of the real goals of cooking demonstrations and recipes available on site is getting young people to like vegetables.
"I think one thing that people really experienced last year was when you buy things that are at peak, or as I call seasonal cooking, the flavors are just multiplied," said Langacker. "And I had several famiiles come back, and say 'my kid never eats vegetables, now they love vegetables."
The Champaign Farmer's Market will include local musicians, including a steel drum performer on Thursday. New vendors include a seller of specialty cakes and cupcakes, and a maker of locally made dog biscuits. The market is also pet friendly
The market runs from 3 to 7 p.m. each Thursday thru September 1st at 201 North First Street. Meanwhile, the University of Illinois' Sustainable Student Farm will start up its own Thursday produce stand in the Urbana campus quad, beginning Thursday. It runs from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office says it is reviewing a troubled college savings program.
Spokeswoman Natalie Bauer said Wednesday that Madigan is "looking into some issues'' at the Illinois Student Assistance Commission. She did not elaborate.
The commission runs the prepaid tuition program College Illinois. A state audit released in April questioned management of the program's invested funds and said it had a continuing deficit of more than $300 million.
Lawmakers then ordered a more thorough audit.
College Illinois lets parents and others invest money now and lock in a future tuition level. But it's not guaranteed, so investors would be out of luck if the money runs out.
A spokesman said the commission had not been contacted by the attorney general or other officials.
With a $2 billion fundraising project nearly complete, the University of Illinois is turning its attention toward raising money for students in need.
Leaders at the university are launching a campaign to raise $100 million over the next three years to assist students who would otherwise be eligible for state assistance. The state's Monetary Award Program has faced several years of hardship, and last year MAP turned down more than 100,000 requests for aid.
U of I Foundation spokesman Don Kojich said the new "Access Illinois: The Presidential Scholarship Initiative" may evolve into an ongoing appeal.
"We're really going to focus the next three years on the scholarship initiative and see how much of dent we can make in that unmet need, and then evaluate it as we move forward," Kojich said.
The university is unveiling the new fund drive Thursday morning before the Board of Trustees meeting in Chicago. Among the first donations will be a $100,000 gift from President Michael Hogan and his wife, Virginia.
Kojich said students in all three U of I campuses could be eligible for help from the fund. The money may supplement an existing scholarship program or could be based on any need- or merit-based criteria.
Prosecutors began making their final arguments to jurors Wednesday at the corruption retrial of Rod Blagojevich, after presenting a streamlined case in which they tried to portray the ousted Illinois governor as a serial liar.
Government attorney Carrie Hamilton told jurors that Blagojevich took an oath to fulfill his duties as governor.
"What you have learned in court at this trial is that time and time again, the defendant violated that oath," Hamilton said. "He used his powers as governor to get things for him."
Attorneys for Blagojevich had rested their case earlier in the day after calling defense witnesses that included a former congressman, a former state budget office employee and an FBI agent. Prosecutors then called rebuttal witnesses including two Canadian building executives and two FBI agents.
Jurors could start deliberating as soon as Thursday afternoon, depending on the length of closing arguments by both sides.
In their three-week case, prosecutors called about 15 witnesses and played FBI wiretaps of Blagojevich. They sought to prove charges including that he attempted to shake down executives for cash by threatening state decisions that would hurt their businesses, and that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama's old U.S. Senate seat.
Blagojevich, 54, faces 20 counts, including attempted extortion and conspiracy to commit bribery.
Prosecutors told jurors that Blagojevich is heard, over and over, scheming to profit from his decisions as governor. They have argued that such talk itself is a crime, and the fact that his schemes failed doesn't change the fact they were illegal.
In the retrial, the prosecution called around half the witnesses as in the first trial last year. Prosecutors asked witnesses fewer questions and rarely strayed onto topics not directly related to the charges. Unlike the first go-around, the prosecution barely touched on Blagojevich's lavish shopping or his lax, sometimes odd working habits.
Blagojevich's first trial ended with a hung jury, with the panel agreeing on a single count - that he lied to the FBI about how involved he was in fundraising as governor. Before the initial trial, Blagojevich repeatedly insisted he would speak directly to jurors, but he never did. His lawyers rested without calling a single witness.
The impeached governor was the star witness of the three-week defense presentation this time. Under a grueling cross-examination, Blagojevich occasionally became flustered, but he repeatedly denied trying to sell or trade the Senate seat or attempting to shake down executives.
In often long-winded answers, Blagojevich argued that his talk captured on FBI wiretaps was merely brainstorming, and that he never took the schemes seriously or decided to carry them out. And though the judge barred such arguments, Blagojevich claimed he'd believed his conversations were legal and part of common political discourse.
Defense attorneys had also called Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. In several motions, they've also accused the government of thwarting them, including by repeatedly objecting to their questions during cross-examination.
(AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn named Chicago schools chief Gery Chico as chairman of the State Board of Education on Tuesday.
Chico's "decades of experience" in education and administration will be a boon to the state's schools, Quinn said at an announcement in Chicago.
Chico became president of the Chicago school board in 1995 when the city took over the schools. He helped close a budget deficit, build new schools and repair old ones, and got credit for raising test scores.
Quinn said in Chicago Tuesday that Chico's "decades of experience'' in education and administration will be a boon to the state's schools.
"I really think it's important to have a leader of distinction, leading our mission of education," Quinn said. "I can't think of anyone better than Gery Chico."
The State Board of Education has less sway over Illinois public schools than a local school board. The state panel is a policymaking body that oversees state and federal grant money and implements education law.
Chico and Quinn said they would focus on a bipartisan reform law that the Legislature sent to the governor this spring and which deals mostly with teachers' rights and qualifications. Quinn also will make early childhood education and helping local governments to build new schools priorities. Chico said he would try to develop board partnerships with other educational organizations such as universities to bring new opportunities to the classroom.
"Teachers and education literally brought us to where we are today," Chico said. "And as the governor said, it is the heart and soul of our state."
Chico lost the Chicago mayor's race this year and finished fifth in the 2004 Democratic Senate primary that Barack Obama won.
Chico replaces Jesse Ruiz, who has served as chairman since September 2004. He was the first chairman appointed under a law signed that month by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich which the governor to name seven new members and the chairman.
The idea was to make the board more accountable to the governor, who months earlier had made an infamous budget speech in which he called the state board "a Soviet-style bureaucracy" in an effort to create an education department that answered to him.
Ruiz retained respect in the Legislature and education communities after the impeached governor's downfall and Quinn praised him Tuesday, saying he chose Chico after looking for someone with similar qualities.
Members of the Illinois State Board of Education receive no salary but are reimbursed for expenses and paid $50 a day when the board meets once a month.
(AP Photo/(M. Spencer Green)
The judge in ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's retrial says he expects the jury to begin deliberating Thursday.
U.S. District Judge James Zagel made the comment shortly after Blagojevich ended his testimony on Tuesday.
Zagel says the defense plans to call two more witnesses Wednesday, when the government could be ready to present its closing arguments.
The judge says jurors could start to deliberate Thursday after the defense finishes their closing.
The testimony stage of the retrial has lasted six weeks.
The government presented a streamlined, three-week case and called 15 witnesses.
The defense called three witnesses over three weeks. Blagojevich was on for most of that time. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. also took the stand for the defense.
Republican voters in the newly redrawn 53rd state Senate District will have a choice in next year's primary election, between Jason Barickman and Shane Cultra. Barickman, who serves in the Illinois House, announced last week he would run for the Senate seat.
Now, State Senator Cultra says he'll run for the office, too, even though he could be facing an expensive primary fight.
"I'm not over confident, but I enjoy my job," Cultra said. "And what I had to do was sit down and look at all the facts, and how my family felt about it. It's quite a commitment, a huge amount of money to raise. I wanted to make sure I had enough funds to be competitive, lined up and committed, before I made that decision."
Cultra was appointed to the state Senate just a few months ago, replacing Dan Rutherford when he became state treasurer. Barickman was chosen to take Cultra's old seat in the House. Cultra said he has more legislative experience than Barickman.
"I have a long history for people to look at," said Cultra, who served eight years in the Illinois House, prior to his appointment to the Senate. "I certainly represent well the district I'm running in. I've lived here all my life."
But Cultra and Barickman will be introducing themselves to a new group of voters in the 53rd Senate District. With its new boundaries, the 53rd District covers all of Iroquois and Ford Counties, most of Livingston County, and parts of Woodford, Vermilion and McLean Counties. It will no longer cover any of Champaign, Tazewell or LaSalle Counties.
Austan Goolsbee, a longtime adviser to President Barack Obama, will resign his post as the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers this summer to return to teaching at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, the White House announced Monday.
Obama called him "one of America's great economic thinkers."
Goolsbee has been the face of the White House on economic news, and is a regular every first Friday of the month explaining the administration's take on the latest jobless numbers.
He brought a mix of levity and a teacher's sensibility to the job, using the White House blog, Facebook or YouTube to illustrate tax cuts, trade, or the auto industry resurgence on a dry-erase board with a dry wit and a gravel voice. He has been at Obama's side for years. He advised Obama during his 2004 Senate race and was senior economic policy adviser during the 2008 presidential campaign and has served on the three-member economic council since the start of the administration.
"Since I first ran for the U.S. Senate, Austan has been a close friend and one of my most trusted advisers," Obama said. "Over the past several years, he has helped steer our country out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and although there is still much work ahead, his insights and counsel have helped lead us toward an economy that is growing and creating millions of jobs."
Goolsbee took over last September as council chairman, replacing Christina Romer, who left to return to a teaching position at the University of California, Berkley.
He had taught at the University of Chicago for 14 years. His university biography once described him as "insanely committed to his work," noting that Goolsbee was seen in the classroom, wearing a tuxedo, on the day of his wedding.
(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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