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Potential juror calls Blagojevich a ‘nutcase’

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

In his first day back in federal court since his trial last summer, Rod Blagojevich learned potential jurors held some unflattering impressions of him.

One referred to the former governor as a “nutcase,” in a written jury form, according to U.S. District Judge James Zagel.

“If you take that literally, that does not mean guilty,” Zagel said.

Another female potential juror wrote: “I thought based on what I heard that he was guilty.”

Could she put that aside? “I would hope so,” she said in court.

Another said he’d be skeptical if Blagojevich didn’t take the stand.

“Every chance he gets he keeps saying he will testify,” the man said. “I think I would hold it against him if he did not testify.”

That juror though later said he would heed the judge’s rulings on that matter and was not dismissed.

Those were some of the issues that attorneys dealt with on the first day of jury questioning, in which 22 people were quizzed and nine of those were dismissed for “cause.” In some cases that meant economic hardship or because they said they couldn’t be fair. Jury questioning continues on Monday and by the start of testimony, 18 will be seated.

Among the 13 who are so far staying: a former assistant state’s attorney who also worked for the Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as a man who was convicted of assault, DUI and was entangled in a massive financial scam.

The defense argued to keep an Ecuadorian national.

“She can’t speak English,” Zagel snapped, then denied the request.

Several people were dismissed because they showed they would face significant economic hardship if they served on the trial, which is expected to take about five weeks.

A smattering of potential jurors said they believed the former governor had engaged in wrongdoing, including one who said the former governor “wasn’t playing fair.”

Blagojevich, who had been relatively quiet before this trial, compared to the last, returned with a pared down legal team and without his codefendant brother. He was convicted of one count of lying to the FBI and now faces retrial on 20 counts, including his alleged attempts to sell President Obama’s old U.S. Senate seat.

“Unfortunately, there’s some people who don’t like the governor because of all the adverse publicity he’s received,” said his attorney, Sheldon Sorosky. “However, we hope to get a fair trial.”

Blagojevich, wearing a dark suit and an enthusiastic smile, looked on as a series of jurors were probed about their exposure to his case and on their thinking of the former Illinois governor.

The former assistant state’s attorney said he would have trouble being impartial.

“The difficulty is, I’m fairly well versed in the issues surrounding this matter,” he said. “While I would make every attempt to do so, I have formulated an opinion.”

But it wasn’t all bad news for the defense. One woman said she disagreed with secretly recording someone if they didn’t know about it, though she would try and put her opinions aside. And a suspender-wearing man who had undergone anger management said he thinks law enforcement officials who testify usually side with whoever’s bringing the charges.

He also said “history will reveal itself” when it comes to who’s guilty and who’s not.

At that, Blagojevich, a history buff, leaned forward and smiled.

The final juror of the day though offered little hope.

She had written on her questionnaire that she didn’t think favorably of the former governor. She was told in order to sit as a juror she would have to judge fairly.

Zagel: Can you do that?

“I don’t think so, really.”

She was dismissed.

Contributing: Stefano Esposito

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