- Associated Press - Monday, March 21, 2011

CHICAGO | A federal judge refused to rule Monday on a request from former Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich to cancel his upcoming retrial on political corruption charges, saying the motion did not appear to be serious and would die of its own accord.

Judge James Zagel told attorneys at a pretrial status hearing that he doesn’t have the authority to simply call off a trial, and that he expects the defense motion filed earlier this month to “go away by itself” and “vanish into thin air.”

The motion asked Judge Zagel to forgo a second corruption trial and proceed straight to sentencing the impeached former governor on a lone conviction from his first trial. Most legal observers said the motion had no chance of prevailing.

Blagojevich, 54, faces a maximum five-year prison sentence on the conviction of lying to the FBI, which was the only count jurors in the otherwise deadlocked first trial could agree on.

The retrial is set to start April 20. Blagojevich faces 20 charges, including that he tried to sell or trade an appointment to President Obama’s vacated U.S. Senate seat in exchange for a top job or campaign cash.

Pressed by the defense Monday to rule on the motion one way or the other, Judge Zagel refused, hinting that the motion could be viewed as a public-relations exercise.

“It’s difficult for me to rule … because it seems like it was intended for an audience other than the court,” he said.

He asserted that he didn’t have the authority to cancel a trial and proceed to sentencing - something prosecutors can do as part of a plea deal with a defendant.

“It asks for something I’m not entitled to do,” he said about the motion. “It asks me to exercise the power of the executive branch.”

The March 9 motion asking that the retrial be canceled cited financial woes brought on by an alleged failure of the government to pay the former governor’s legal bills. Hours after the motion was signed, a court official said checks were on their way to Blagojevich’s attorneys.

The former governor had drawn from a nearly $3 million fund for his legal expenses, but it ran dry as the initial trial ended. Judge Zagel later ruled Blagojevich would be allowed to retain only two lawyers and a paralegal with taxpayers’ money.

The issue of attorneys’ pay did not come up in court Monday.

While the motion asked for the retrial to be canceled, it insisted that Blagojevich wasn’t conceding any guilt, including on the lying conviction.

The former governor, who did not attend Monday’s status hearing, sounded defiant when he hosted a popular WLS-AM radio show in Chicago last week.

“I did not lie to the FBI,” he told the audience. “I’m seeking vindication.”

The Democratic former governor’s first corruption trial transfixed the city, with Blagojevich and his aides caught on tape apparently discussing what they could demand in exchange for the appointment to the Senate.

The governor eventually appointed former state comptroller Roland Burris to the seat in late 2009, even as his legal troubles mounted. Mr. Burris decided not to run for a full term in 2010 and the seat was won by Republican Mark Kirk.

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