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James Zagel

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James Zagel
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Current Court Information:
United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois
Title:   Judge
Position:   Seat #12
Alternative court:   United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court
Alternative term:   5/18/2008-5/18/2015
Appointed by:   Ronald Reagan
Active:   4/22/1987-Present
Preceded by:   Frank McGarr
Personal History
Born:   1941
Hometown:   Chicago, IL
Undergraduate:   University of Chicago,1962
Law School:   Harvard Law School, 1965
Grad. School:   University of Chicago, 1962

James Block Zagel is an Article III federal judge for the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. He joined the court in 1987 after being nominated by President Ronald Reagan. Zagel also serves on the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. His term runs from May 18, 2008 until May 18, 2015.[1]


Zagel earned both his bachelor's and master's degrees in 1962 from the University of Chicago before graduating from Harvard Law School with a J.D. degree in 1965.[2]

Professional career

  • 1980-1987: Director of state police, State of Illinois
  • 1980-1987: Chairman, Governor's Advisory Counsel on Criminal Justice Legislation
  • 1979-1980: Director, Department of Revenue, State of Illinois
  • 1977-1979: Executive director, Illinois Law Enforcement Commission
  • 1975: Chief assistant attorney general, State of Arizona
  • 1973-1975: Chief prosecuting attorney, Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board
  • 1970-1977: Chief, Criminal Justice Division
  • 1969-1970: Deputy chief, Criminal Justice Division
  • 1969-1977: Assistant attorney general, State of Illinois
  • 1965-1969: Assistant state's attorney, Cook County, Illinois[2]

Judicial career

Northern District of Illinois

On the recommendation of U.S. Congressman Henry Hyde, Zagel was nominated to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois by President Ronald Reagan on February 2, 1987, to a seat vacated by Judge Frank McGarr. Zagel was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on April 21, 1987, and received his commission on April 22, 1987.[3]

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court

Zagel also concurrently serves on the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. He was appointed on May 18, 2008, and his term will end on May 18, 2015.[1]

Notable cases

Zagel dismisses Neiman Marcus data breach lawsuit (2014)

U.S. District Judge James Zagel dismissed a class action lawsuit brought by several customers of the Neiman Marcus Group. The lawsuit claimed that the department store's negligent security led to a 2013 hack that compromised the credit card numbers of 350,000 customers. The plaintiffs sought reimbursement for unauthorized charges. Judge Zagel ruled that allegations of stolen data was not enough to grant the plaintiffs standing or to prove their concrete injury in the case.


William Cellini trial (2013)

     United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois (United States v. Kahn, 10-cr-00240)

Judge Zagel presided over the trial of William Cellini, a major Illinois power broker convicted in connection with the Rob Blagojevich corruption case. The trial began on October 3, 2011, as a separate trial from Blagojevich's, though they had been scheduled to be tried together. Cellini had been a long-time organizer of major fundraisers for Republican Party candidates. In November 2011, Cellini was convicted of conspiracy to commit extortion and aiding and abetting the solicitation of a bribe. He was sentenced to one year and one day in prison and began serving that sentence in January 2013.[4]

Money wired to Al-Qaeda (2012)

     United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois (United States v. Kahn, 10-cr-00240)

In February 2012, Judge Zagel presided over the case of Raja Kahn, who plead guilty to providing material support to a terrorist group. Kahn wired $300 to an ally of Al-Qaeda, and accepted $700 from an undercover agent to send to the same individual.[5] Kahn is a naturalized citizen of the United States. He was originally to be sentenced to thirty years in prison, but with his plea he received five to eight years behind bars.[5][6]

Rod Blagojevich trial (2010-2011)

     United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois
Judge Zagel presided over the corruption trials of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. In his second trial, the former governor was accused of twenty counts of corruption, specifically: 10 counts of wire fraud, 4 counts of attempted extortion, 2 counts of solicitation of a bribe, 2 counts of conspiracy to solicit a bribe, 1 count of extortion conspiracy, and 1 count of conspiracy to commit extortion.[7] In June 2011, Blagojevich was convicted of 17 of 20 charges.[8]

On December 7, 2011, Judge Zagel announced the sentence as a $20,000 fine and 14 years in prison to begin within 90 days. Judge Zagel was not inclined towards the leniency that Blagojevich's lawyers sought, noting that Blagojevich's apology to the state came late and that his actions had done much damage in the form of eroding public trust. Despite this, the sentence was under the 15 to 20 years requested by the prosecution.[9]

In his first trial, Blagojevich was accused of 24 charges and the jury deadlocked on 23 of them. Prior to that trial, in 2010, two of the governor's chiefs of staff, John Harris and Alonzo Monk, agreed to plea deals with the prosecution. They agreed to testify against Blagojevich in exchange for shorter sentences.[8][10]

While he was convicted of 17 different charges, the most memorable conviction was that of wire fraud regarding President Barack Obama's soon-to-be-vacated United States Senate seat. In phone calls which were recorded, Blagojevich spoke of the seat by saying, "I've got this thing and it's f***ing...golden," hoping to be compensated in some way for making an appointment favorable to the administration.[11]

Operation Family Secrets trial (2007)

Zagel presided over one of Chicago's largest organized crime cases, referred to as the "Operation Family Secrets" trial, which resulted in the convictions of three mobsters for 10 murders.


Praise for Judge Zagel

Rick Halprin, who was an attorney in the highly-publicized Family Secrets trial in 2007, told the Chicago Tribune on May 17, 2010, that Zagel was well-known for his handling of high-profile trials. Zagel was the presiding judge in the 2007 trial involving a highly regarded organized crime outfit in Chicago. Halprin also said that Zagel made it a point to meet with attorneys before the day's courtroom activity began in order to resolve any legal conflicts that could have affected an impartial jury verdict. Sergio Acosta, who was a former prosecutor for the Northern District of Illinois U.S. Attorney's Office, said that the judge "runs a no nonsense courtroom." Acosta also said: "He is one of the most highly regarded judges in the building."[12]

See also

External links


Federal judicial offices
Preceded by:
Frank McGarr
Northern District of Illinois
Seat #12
Succeeded by:
NA-New Seat

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