Sam Adam Jr. is under a threat of jail from Judge James B. Zagel in the trial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Zagel has ruled that Adam cannot refer to witnesses whom the government conspicuously did not call to trial — even though prosecutors referred to non-appearing witnesses. Adam said he was prepared to go to jail over the issue.
Zagel has hit the defense with a series of tough rulings — some of which I disagree with. This one is particularly curious. While you cannot refer to a defendant’s failure to testify under a claim of privilege, I do not understand why a defendant cannot refer to the failure of other witnesses to appear.
Prosecutors referred to the failure of convicted fundraiser Antoin “Tony” Rezko to appear. Yet, Adam is barred from referring to other witnesses who were left out of the trial. Judges are increasingly micromanaging trials — barring defenses and references before the jury. I have long been a critic of this trend. There may be more to this ruling, but it seems highly problematic. Previously, Zagel curtailed testimony on President Obama’s knowledge and role in the case.
Blagojevich, 53, is facing $6 million in fines and a sentence of 415 years in prison. One would think he would be given a bit of latitude in his own defense.