CHICAGO – CHICAGO (AP) — The federal judge presiding over Rod Blagojevich's corruption trial said Friday opening statements may come as early as Tuesday and refused to delay them for even one day so the former Illinois governor could attend his daughter's grammar school graduation.
Tears welled in the eyes of Blagojevich's wife, Patti, in the moments after U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel rejected the one-day delay request. But the judge did say he would shoot for opening statements earlier in the day Tuesday so the Blagojevich's might be able to attend the graduation.
Patti Blagojevich looked glum but was composed as she left court and the impeached former governor — who is accused of scheming to sell or trade President Barack Obama's former Senate seat — put on his usual buoyant, upbeat manner.
"I always say the glass is half full," Blagojevich said as he left the courthouse.
Zagel said he is "asking a lot of jurors to make a time commitment" and he didn't want them losing "a half a day here and a half a day there for the convenience of lawyers."
"There are going to be very few commitments in terms of time in this case," Zagel said.
Zagel questioned 59 potential jurors over the first two days of the trial and dropped 20 of them on Friday over objections from prosecutors and defense attorneys that they were unqualified in one way or another to serve or that they would face to great a hardship.
Zagel was expected to question about 30 more on Monday and then whittle the final panel down to 12 jurors plus an unspecified number of alternates Tuesday morning before launching into opening statements.
Sam Adam Jr., the fiery courtroom orator whose shouting, whispering, table-pounding closing argument preceded R&B singer R. Kelly's acquittal on child pornography charges two years, was expected to deliver the opening statement for the impeached former governor.
Blagojevich maintained his campaign-like attitude Friday, smiling and waving to passers-by when he arrived and at diners as he made his way to a table in the courthouse's cafeteria during lunch — even though many barely seemed to take notice.
But unlike the trial's first day when about 60 or so journalists clamored to see him arrive, only about a dozen were on hand Friday morning. The supporters and well-wishers he had hugged on Thursday also were gone.
Blagojevich was in his second term as governor when he was arrested 18 months ago at his home on the North Side of Chicago. He and his co-defendant — his brother, Nashville, Tenn., businessman Robert Blagojevich, 54 — have pleaded not guilty to scheming to sell or trade the Senate seat Obama left to move to the White House after his November 2008 election and to illegally pressuring political contributors.
Some of jurors that were question on Friday included two former Marines, a Polish-born housekeeping supervisor, a hospital administrator, a retired videotape librarian, a bank manager, a woman who does community volunteer work and a federal Homeland Security supervisor at O'Hare International Airport also were among those interviewed.
One potential juror cited Blagojevich's appearances television, saying she viewed it unfavorably as self-promotion. Blagojevich appeared on NBC's reality TV show "Celebrity Apprentice" and on several talk shows.
No jurors were seated by Friday afternoon and none were expected to be until after the lawyers make their final challenges next week.