Judge refuses new trial for longtime power broker William Cellini
ASSOCIATED PRESS January 24, 2012 4:58PM
William Cellini, the longtime, behind-the-scenes power broker in Illinois government, listens to his lawyer, Dan Webb, react to a guilty verdict at Dirksen Federal Building, Tuesday, November 1, 2011. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times
Updated: February 26, 2012 8:14AM
A federal judge denied a retrial Tuesday for longtime Illinois power broker William Cellini, rejecting arguments that he didn’t get a fair trial because a juror lied about her criminal past during jury selection.
Judge James Zagel issued his ruling in what has been seen as the last trial to grow out of a decadelong investigation of ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
The ruling comes after jurors convicted the Springfield Republican of conspiring to shake down the Oscar-winning producer of “Million Dollar Baby” for a contribution to Blagojevich’s campaign.
Defense attorneys had demanded a retrial, citing post-trial revelations that one juror lied about her criminal history and thereby denied Cellini a fair trial. It wasn’t discovered that she apparently had lied until after the trial ended in November.
But prosecutors had argued there was no proof she was biased or performed her juror’s duties poorly, despite any lies. In such cases, judges are normally reluctant to overturn verdicts, and usually want clear evidence a juror’s behavior directly affected the trial’s outcome.
Defense attorney Dan Webb argued in a hearing last week that the juror’s lies created a built-in bias against his 77-year-old client, telling Zagel that it would be wrong to allow a verdict to stand when someone so flawed sat in judgment of Cellini.
“We can’t be saying in this country that if a juror deliberately lies that . . . unless I can show actual bias, that I can’t get a new trial,” he said.
A prosecutor countered that whether the juror lied or not, there’s no proof she was biased against Cellini or that she skewed the jury’s eventual finding that he conspired to extort a Hollywood producer for a contribution to Blagojevich’s campaign.
Prosecutor Chris Niewoehner also argued that proceedings shouldn’t be dragged out so long after jurors rendered what he said was a proper verdict.
“There is a strong [public] interest in finality here,” he said. “This was a fair trial.”
Cellini, once known as the King of Clout in Illinois for the influence he wielded in the corridors of state power, has attended hearings on the case in Chicago. The multimillionaire businessman appeared relaxed but engaged last week as the sides delivered their arguments.
During a contentious evidentiary hearing earlier this month, the juror, Candy Chiles, bristled under tough questioning by Webb.
“I’m not under trial,” she snapped. “I haven’t did anything wrong.”
At one point, she stormed from the room yelling, “Leave me alone!”
Chiles admitted she gave inaccurate answers during jury selection when she said she didn’t have any convictions. She had pleaded guilty in the 1990s to felony drug possession charges and in 2008 to felony aggravated DUI.
At that hearing, she offered scant explanation for why she didn’t reveal her convictions.
In a filing last week, the defense said Chiles “lied because she could not care less about the integrity of the justice system.”
But Niewoehner said Friday it’s unclear she lied deliberately, saying Cellini’s attorneys were holding her to too high a standard.
“They’re demanding she act like a lawyer, think like a lawyer, speak like a lawyer,” he said. “She’s not a precise person, that’s clear.”
He added there were no reports that Chiles ever acted inappropriately in any way during the trial itself or during deliberations.
Cellini faces up to 30 years in prison for conspiracy to commit extortion and aiding in the solicitation of a bribe.