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Judge Richard Posner of the 7th Circuit is not someone whom lower court judges want denigrating their rulings. But that’s what the oft-cited judge did Thursday to Senior U.S. District Judge Milton Shadur. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on Wednesday in prosecutors’ appeal of a sentence handed down to longtime (now retired) Chicago alderman Edward R. Vrdolyak. Shadur had sentenced Vrdolyak to five-years probation and a $50,000 fine for his role in an illegal kickback scheme. But the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago wanted the maximum 41 months jail time. In November 2008, Vrdolyak agreed to plead guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. Shadur in his March 2009 ruling said he was hard-pressed to see damages and did see mitigating factors in the letters supporting Vrdolyak. Posner was not impressed. “I’m concerned also about a situation where the judge finds no loss — on rather questionable reasoning — and says, ‘Well, if I’m wrong and there’s a loss, it doesn’t make any difference,’ ” Posner said. “ Does that reflect a thoughtful sentencing process or just a determination to give a certain sentence regardless?” The government argued that the lower court erred in not finding a loss of at least $1.5 million — the amount Vrdolyak received for his help in steering a Chicago medical school to sell property to a buyer anointed by a co-conspirator. The co-conspirator sat on the school’s board of trustees. “Our hope would be that you would instruct [the district court] as to what the real damage was,” said Chris Niewoehner, an Assistant U.S. Attorney and former Shadur clerk who argued for the government. On the letters, Posner said it was “ridiculous” to give them so much weight. “I don’t get the letters,” Posner said. “Anyone who is prominent can gin up a lot of letters.” Newly seated Judge David Hamilton, who presided in the Southern District of Indiana before being confirmed by the U.S. Senate in November, asked if the sentence was “unreasonable” and wondered what good a remand would do, given the trial judge’s flexibility in sentencing. Posner predicted that Shadur, who took senior status in 1992, wouldn’t change his mind. While the government didn’t ask for a remand to a different judge, the appeals court can call for one. “We think the district court judge properly applied the law when he sentenced Mr. Vrdolyak, and we are hopeful his judgment will be affirmed,” said defense counsel Barry Spevack of Chicago-based Monico, Pavich & Spevack, in an e-mail. Vrdolyak, 71, was disbarred in March in connection with the case. He was a Chicago alderman from 1971 to 1987 and served as chairman of the Cook Country Democratic Party from 1982 to 1988 before running unsuccessfully for Chicago mayor in 1989. He founded Chicago-based Vrdolyak Law Group, which has 13 attorneys, including his three sons, according to the firm’s Web site. The firm specializes in personal injury, medical malpractice and workers’ compensation issues. The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined further comment.

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