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Blagojevich judge refuses to delay trial after Supreme Court 'honest services' ruling

A federal judge on Thursday denied a request to delay the corruption trial of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich [JURIST news archive] in order for his defense lawyers to review a decision by US Supreme Court [official website] limiting the scope of the federal honest services fraud statute [18 USC § 1346 text]. Blagojevich is currently facing several honest services fraud charges for allegedly conspiring to sell or trade the Senate seat left vacant by US President Barack Obama [official website] after his election. Judge James Zagel of the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois [official website] held that the trial delay was unnecessary because the Supreme Court's decision in Skilling v. United States [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] was unlikely to affect Blagojevich's case. The Supreme Court held in Skilling that the honest services law is not unconstitutionally vague under a limited construction of the statute and was only applicable to the protection of intangible rights of honest service deprived through bribery and kickbacks. Last month, the Supreme Court denied [JURIST report] Blagojevich's request to postpone the start of his trial until tit issued opinions in cases involving the honest services statute. In anticipation of a potential void for vagueness ruling Skilling, the prosecution also charged Blagojevich with racketeering, attempted extortion, bribery, conspiracy to commit bribery and conspiracy to commit extortion.

In April, the prosecution was ordered [JURIST report] to release a 91-page government proffer outlining evidence in its case against Blagojevich. According to the proffer, Blagojevich tried to sell the Senate seat vacated by Obama, made appointments based on anticipated campaign contributions and took kickbacks from a number of companies. In March, Blagojevich pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to eight amended corruption charges. In January 2009, the Illinois State Senate voted unanimously [JURIST report] to convict Blagojevich of abuse of power and remove him from office. Blagojevich and his former chief of staff John Harris were initially arrested [JURIST report] in December 2008.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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