Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich waves as he departs his Chicago home on March 15, 2012, for Littleton, Colo., to begin his 14-year prison sentence on corruption charges. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 11, 2014 5:48 PM
CHICAGO — An appellate court in Chicago ruled Tuesday that transcripts of FBI wiretaps not played at Rod Blagojevich's corruption trials would be part of the appellate record but would remain sealed, at least for now.
The decisions by the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals came as it continued to mull its decision on the imprisoned former Illinois governor's 100-page appeal, which was filed last July and asks the three-judge appellate panel to toss his multiple convictions.
The 57-year-old Chicago Democrat is in a Colorado prison serving a 14-year sentence, including for seeking to exchange an appointment to President Barack Obama's old Senate seat for campaign cash or a job.
The wiretaps in question are among those U.S. District Judge James Zagel barred the defense from playing to jurors. The appeal argues Blagojevich engaged in legal political horse-trading regarding the seat and that FBI recordings supported that contention.
The same order also confirmed the court would include the tapes not played as a part of the appellate record judges can go through. They were submitted late by defense attorneys after realizing they weren't in an initial batch of documents, raising questions about whether the panel would put them in the record.
Appellate courts typically unseal documents shortly after they are submitted along with an appeal. But prosecutors later asked that the transcripts not entered into evidence stay under seal, citing the privacy of some subjects on the wiretaps and other concerns.
Blagojevich's attorneys wanted them promptly opened, arguing transparency was "an important safeguard" against violations of a defendant's rights.
While it agreed to the government's request to keep the records sealed, the brief appellate order does say that if the court eventually concurs the trial judge erred by not admitting them, they will then be unsealed.
One of Blagojevich's lawyers, Sheldon Sorosky, said the defense asked for the transcripts to be unsealed on principle. But he said the decision not to do open them shouldn't affect the court's deliberations on the appeal itself.
"We asked because it has always been Gov. Blagojevich's position that all the tapes should be unsealed," he said.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago, Randall Samborn, declined comment.