By Janan Hanna
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Lawyers for disgraced former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich asked a federal judge on Tuesday to show mercy in sentencing him for his federal conviction on multiple corruption counts.
The lawyers said Blagojevich did not profit personally from his conduct and his family would be devastated if he is sentenced to a lengthy prison term.
In court filings, prosecutors said they seek 15 to 20 years for Blagojevich, convicted by a jury in June of trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by then president-elect Barack Obama for personal and financial gain, and for seeking jobs and campaign contributions in exchange for state action.
"He doesn't deserve mercy because he has a family," attorney Aaron Goldstein told the judge during an entire day of arguments from the defense. "His family deserves mercy."
Quoting from a letter Blagojevich's wife, Patti, sent the judge, Goldstein said: "The punishment he fears the most, the one that is most devastating, is that he would not see his daughters grow."
U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel, appearing at times impatient during three different defense lawyers' arguments, said Tuesday morning he will consider the financial benefits the former governor would have received from the Senate seat trade and other government actions if federal authorities hadn't arrested him before the deals went through.
"It was a price he put on it," Zagel said. "A price he expected to receive."
Zagel said just because Blagojevich did not get "money in his pocket" does not mean he should be spared punishment for the attempt to get campaign contributions in exchange for official actions.
"Failure to complete an offense doesn't lessen the defendant's culpability," Zagel said.
During the trial, prosecutors presented evidence showing Blagojevich sought $1.5 million in campaign contributions from supporters of Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr., in exchange for appointing him to the Senate seat, and that the then-governor sought a cabinet post or a high paying Washington job in exchange for appointing Obama's choice of Valerie Jarrett.
He was also convicted of attempting to shake down the head of a children's hospital for campaign cash in exchange for authorizing an increase in doctor reimbursement fees, and for shaking down the head of Illinois racetracks in exchange for approving legislation favorable to the industry.
Going through each of the schemes for which Blagojevich was convicted, lead defense lawyer Sheldon Sorosky said none warranted a sentence of 15 to 20 years. The hospital reimbursements and the racetrack legislation were all approved and Blagojevich did not receive a dime, Sorosky said.
Federal authorities, who had been taping Blagojevich's conversations with aides, arrested him in December 2009, before he could complete the crime, prosecutors have argued.
More than 130 people filed into the ceremonial courtroom at the Federal Dirksen Building in Chicago to watch the start of the sentencing hearing, which will continue on Wednesday with the prosecution's presentation and finally a statement from Blagojevich himself before the judge hands down a sentence.
The defense tried to lessen any additional time Blagojevich could get under the federal sentencing rules for his attempts at profiting and for being in a leadership role in the corruption scheme, which involved some aides who pleaded guilty and cooperated with the government in exchange for leniency.
The lawyers said Blagojevich should not be treated harshly since he did not profit. And they said he was surrounded by experienced political players egging him on in his schemes.
They also described Blagojevich in another context -- that of a loving wife and father to two young girls.
Attorney Goldstein read from a letter his daughter, Amy, had written to the judge saying: "I will not be able to handle my father not being around. I need him to be here for my high school graduation. I need him if I don't get into college ... I'll need him if my heart gets broken."
Richard Kling, a clinical professor at Chicago Kent College of Law, said after court recessed that the challenge for Blagojevich on Wednesday when he addresses the judge will be to tow the line between admitting guilt and being sorry.
"If he comes in and admits he's guilty, he jeopardizes his appeal," Kling said. "And if he says he didn't do it, he will engender the wrath."
The flamboyant two-term Democrat was thrown out of office in 2009.
Blagojevich was tried twice -- first in August 2010, when he was convicted of one charge of lying to investigators and jurors deadlocked on 23 other counts. After a second trial this year, he was convicted of 17 of 20 counts.
(Editing by Jerry Norton)