Blagojevich headed for retrial in early January

Prosecutors drop charges against his brother

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CHICAGO (AP) — Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is set to go back on trial in early January, but he will stand alone as a defendant this time after prosecutors dismissed all corruption charges against his brother on Thursday.

U.S. District Court Judge James Zagel said Rod Blagojevich’s retrial will start the week of Jan. 4, but he did not set a specific date. Jurors deadlocked last week on all but one of 23 charges against the former governor and four charges against his brother.

The attorney for Robert Blagojevich delivered the surprise news about the charges being dismissed to his client in a brief phone call moments after the hearing. The attorney, Michael Ettinger, told the Nashville, Tenn., businessman, “You’re free.” He said Robert Blagojevich responded “Oh my god, you’re kidding!”

Federal prosecutors said their decision was based on Robert Blagojevich’s less central role in purported schemes to sell or trade an appointment to President Obama’s old Senate seat and to pressure people for campaign donations.

Some jurors said the panel was close to acquitting Robert. A few said they did not want to see him retried.

The brothers have denied any wrongdoing.

Mr. Ettinger said Robert Blagojevich does not intend to testify against his brother. He said he would have to obey any subpoena, but that he could invoke the 5th amendment to avoid self incrimination.

Robert Blagojevich worked as his brother’s campaign manager for only four months in 2008. The Republican had been a successful banker and retired Army officer living in Nashville with his wife, but said he went to work for the Democratic governor out of a sense of brotherly love and family solidarity.

Testifying at the trial, he denied allegations that he helped his brother scheme to benefit from his public office. Another witness, noting Robert’s relative lack of importance in the campaign, said his desk was the corner of a conference table facing a sink.

For the retrial, Judge Zagel said he probably won’t allow the former governor more than two taxpayer-funded lawyers when the case begins anew. But the judge said he would be open to allowing more attorneys if they volunteered their time, or to allowing attorneys paid by a benefactor.

Rod Blagojevich says he’s broke after his campaign fund was depleted by paying attorneys in his first trial. Judge Zagel called for a detailed report about Mr. Blagojevich’s financial status to help him make decisions about his representation. He said the source of any funding for Mr. Blagojevich’s defense must be clear.

In court, Blagojevich attorney Sheldon Sorosky argued that his client would need more than two attorneys. He said the half-dozen attorneys in the first trial were one reason the team was able to successfully battle against convictions on all but one charge of lying to the FBI.

“Instead of a slingshot, our David had his band of lawyers,” Mr. Sorosky said.

Judge Zagel rejected the analogy. He said he’d never seen a defense table as crowded with attorneys and legal assistants as Mr. Blagojevich’s was at the first trial.

“I thought it was the defendant that looked like Goliath and not the prosecution,” he said.

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