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The prosecution of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) hasn’t been an easy one for U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. First there were Fitzgerald’s post-indictment comments to the media — including that the governor had been on a “political corruption crime spree” — that some took as prejudicial. Blagojevich tried to shoot down the case as an attempt to criminalize politics, and then, in August, a jury deadlocked on most of the charges. So Monday’s verdict finding Blagojevich guilty on 17 counts, after a second trial, may give Fitzgerald some measure of validation for his handling of the case. David Yellen, dean of the Loyola University Chicago School of Law, said Fitzgerald’s initial comments to the media were “problematic,” but he praised the way prosecutors learned from the first trial and simplified their corruption case against Blagojevich. “They alleged that this was not politics as usual but was serious criminality, and I think a lot of people had questions about that,” Yellen said in a phone interview after Monday’s verdict. “But the jurors definitely believed [Blagojevich] crossed the line between horse-trading and bribery or extortion.” It didn’t hurt the prosecution’s case, Yellen added, that Blagojevich decided to take the stand in his own defense during the second trial, a move that Yellen said appeared to “help decide things for the jury.” Blagojevich’s defense team, from the small Chicago firm of Kaplan & Sorosky, has already been planning to contest a guilty verdict. This month, they filed 30 pages of motions for a mistrial, based largely on the rulings of U.S. District Judge James Zagel. In addition to the conviction on 17 counts, the jury found Blagojevich not guilty on one count and deadlocked on two other counts. The case against Blagojevich has helped to solidify Fitzgerald’s reputation as an aggressive federal prosecutor. A career prosecutor, he worked in the Southern District of New York until President George W. Bush appointed him the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois in 2001. In 2003, he was appointed special prosecutor in the leak case surrounding former CIA officer Valerie Plame. Dean Polales, a partner at Ungaretti & Harris in Chicago who served under Fitzgerald, called the verdict against Blagojevich “crushing.” “They put a tremendous amount of effort into trying this case twice, and when the U.S. attorney brought this case, it was obvious how strongly he believed in it, from his initial remarks when the indictment was returned and the arrests were made,” Polales said. He added, “This should send another strong message, with respect to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago’s ability to effectively prosecute public corruption cases.” Yellen said the outcome reflects well on Fitzgerald, even if it didn’t come easily. “He’s certainly a built an impressive record as a federal prosecutor,” he said, “one of the most impressive of his generation.” David Ingram can be contacted at [email protected].

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