In sharply contrasting portrayals, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was cast Wednesday by the defense as a dedicated but duped public servant who deserves compassion, while prosecutors described him as a brazenly selfish public official who refused to take responsibility for widespread corruption that has eroded trust in government.
The competing filings came a week before U.S. District Judge James Zagel is scheduled to sentence Blagojevich.
The gulf between the two sides could hardly be wider. Prosecutors called for Blagojevich to be sentenced to 15 to 20 years in prison, potentially the toughest sentence in Chicago's long, sad history of public corruption. In contrast, the defense, which for weeks has said it will seek probation, beseeched Zagel to impose a compassionate sentence, calling him a tragic figure.
In their 72-page filing Wednesday evening, Blagojevich's lawyers ignored the verdicts of two separate juries to paint the former governor as an "innocent" who had no idea he was breaking the law by trading favors for campaign contributions and was betrayed by scheming advisers.
"He chose advisers poorly as it turned out and regrets those choices profoundly," the defense wrote.
That would seem to be a risky strategy with Zagel, who at times has made clear his disdain for Blagojevich's antics and excuses.
Earlier in the day, prosecutors issued their own take on Blagojevich, arguing he had been corrupt from the moment he took office in 2003, even after aides had been arrested and convicted in the probe, and all the way until his early morning arrest at his Ravenswood home nearly three years ago.
Blagojevich, they argued, had made a mockery of the criminal justice system, launching a media offensive in which he repeatedly lied and then perjuring himself during seven days on the witness stand at his second trial.
"Blagojevich has done his best to undermine the legitimacy of the proceedings against him in this case, further demonstrating he does not respect the rule of law," the prosecution wrote.
Blagojevich's attorneys sought leniency, arguing he made no money in the schemes and had tried to follow the law as he understood it.
They also lauded his work as governor, saying he took political risks to help children, the elderly and the poor. Among the many examples cited was the All Kids program, which provided universal health care to children.
"Rod Blagojevich is an intrinsically good, kind and decent man," the defense said.
In their 21-page filing, prosecutors noted that Blagojevich was elected governor in 2002 on a platform to end "pay-to-play" politics and decried corruption following the conviction in 2006 of his predecessor, Gov. George Ryan.
The government quoted Blagojevich as saying at the time "that no one is above the law" and "that government is supposed to exist for the good of the people, not the other way around, and certainly not for the personal enrichment of those who hold public office."
A key part of the government argument for such a stiff prison sentence was to deter current and future public officials "from engaging in Blagojevich-like criminal activity." The government cited other lengthy sentences meted out around the country against public officials in recent years.
Prosecutors also belittled the defense request for probation for Blagojevich, saying it shows his "continued failure to acknowledge his own criminal conduct."
Prosecutors said Blagojevich merits much harsher punishment because he "repeatedly committed serious criminal acts that have done enormous damage to public confidence in Illinois government. He has refused to accept any responsibility for his criminal conduct and, rather, has repeatedly obstructed justice and taken action to further erode respect for the law.
"While the government is not unsympathetic to the plight that Blagojevich, like many criminals, has inflicted upon his family through his criminal acts, Blagojevich has nobody to blame but himself for the criminal conduct in which he engaged."
In seeking such a stiff sentence, prosecutors pointed to last week's sentencing of Antoin "Tony" Rezko, a top Blagojevich fundraiser and adviser who was given 101/2 years in prison, a punishment some legal experts said raised the bar for Blagojevich.
The government also argued that it made Blagojevich's request for probation "entirely inconsistent with promoting respect for the law."
Lawyers for Blagojevich argued that he shouldn't be hit with a lengthy prison sentence because the prosecution and publicity have already resulted in his "personal ruination, public scorn and criminal conviction."
Without elaborating, the filing said the three years since Blagojevich's arrest have "taken a toll" on his mental and physical health and resulted in "anxiety, stress and uncertainty" for his two daughters.
The lawyers referred to Blagojevich's media offensive, saying it was a response "for good or for bad" to press coverage, and said that his and wife Patti's reality show appearances weren't intended to garner public support but rather to make money to support their daughters.
"His family is close to bankruptcy," the defense wrote. "He has suffered every kind of public ridicule and humiliation imaginable — to the point that foreign tourists can often be found posing for photos on the outside staircase to his family home."
Much of Blagojevich's filing, however, seemed to be yet another long argument of his innocence.
The defense argued that "a full and fair analysis" of undercover recordings in the case would reveal Blagojevich "sincerely believed that his actions were proper under the law as he understood it at the time."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times