Judge James Zagel presided over both of former Governor Rod Blagojevich's federal trial. Today was the sentencing of Blago's former chief of staff John Harris. Blago and Harris were both arrested on that fateful day of December 9, 2008.
Former chief of staff John Harris’ role in the bartering over President Obama’s old Senate seat was “so serious and so crucial” that it warranted some prison time, said U.S. District Court Judge James Zagel. But Zagel also noted that Harris’s boss exhibited “elements on some level of mental instability.”Blagojevich started his 14 year prison term on March 15th.
“It was difficult for me to understand, on many occasions, what the governor was doing,” Zagel told Harris.
Blagojevich and Harris were arrested on the same day in December 2008, but rather than fighting the charges, Harris almost immediately agreed to cooperate with federal investigators and testified against Blagojevich at both his trials, pleading guilty to a lesser charge in hopes of a more lenient sentence. In addition to the unusually brief prison term, Zagel sentenced Harris, 50, to two years of supervised release and a $1,000 fine.
Harris told the judge that he wanted to apologize for his actions to the people of the state, the court, the government and his family. Harris, who is of Greek descent, recounted the long “odyssey” that began with his arrest at home, saying he soon realized he should have stopped helping Blagojevich when it became clear to him that his boss was looking to benefit himself.
“I should have done more,” Harris told Zagel. “In seeking to maintain his confidence, I lost my way.”
Harris’s lawyer, Terry Ekl, had asked the judge to give no more than probation, but he said Harris was “very pleased” with the sentence.
Before announcing the sentence, the judge said he could not honestly claim he would have reacted to a superior’s directives differently than Harris responded to Blagojevich — with one exception.
“I would have left sooner, much sooner,” said Zagel, who was a state official in the 1970s and 1980s and credited Harris with disobeying some of Blagojevich’s orders.