James Zagel

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James Block Zagel
Senior Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois
Assumed office
October 21, 2016
Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois
In office
April 22, 1987 – October 21, 2016
Appointed byRonald Reagan
Preceded byFrank James McGarr
Judge of the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court
In office
May 18, 2008 – May 18, 2015
Appointed byJohn Roberts
Preceded byJames G. Carr
Succeeded byJames Parker Jones
Personal details
BornJames Block Zagel
(1941-03-04) March 4, 1941 (age 77)
Chicago, Illinois
EducationUniversity of Chicago (B.A., M.A.)
Harvard Law School (J.D.)

James Block Zagel (born March 4, 1941) is a Senior United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and a novelist.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Born in Chicago, Illinois, to Jewish parents, Zagel is the son of Samuel S. Zagel (1905–1999), a native of Warsaw, Poland who had immigrated to Chicago in 1915, and Ethel Samuels Zagel (1911–1986). Zagel earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Chicago in 1962 and a Master of Arts degree from the University of Chicago in the same year. He then earned a Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School in 1965.[2]

Professional career[edit]

Zagel began his career as an assistant state attorney in Cook County, Illinois from 1965 until 1969. He then served as an assistant attorney general for the State of Illinois from 1969 until 1977. Concurrent to the job as assistant attorney general, Zagel ran the Criminal Justice Division in the attorney general's office from 1970 until 1977, and he also served as chief prosecuting attorney for the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board from 1973 until 1975.[2] In 1977, Zagel became executive director of the Illinois Law Enforcement Commission, a post he held until 1979. From 1979 until 1980, Zagel was the director of the Illinois Department of Revenue.[3] From 1980 until joining the federal bench in 1987, Zagel was the director of the Illinois State Police.[2]

Federal judicial service[edit]

Judicial appointments[edit]

Zagel was a finalist for a federal judgeship in 1985, but was not chosen.[4] On February 2, 1987, President Reagan nominated Zagel to be a judge on the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The United States Senate confirmed Zagel on April 21, 1987 and he received his commission on April 22, 1987.[2] He took senior status on October 21, 2016. From 2008 to 2015, Zagel served a seven-year term on the FISA Court.[1][5]

Trial history[edit]

Zagel has presided over many high-profile trials, including:

In April 2009, it was announced that Zagel would preside over the federal corruption trial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and his brother, Robert Blagojevich.[3] The judge refused to let Blagojevich go to Costa Rica to participate in the show, I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here, saying Blagojevich needed to prepare a good defense for his upcoming trial and focus on the reality of the current situation.[7] The former governor's wife Patti Blagojevich went instead.[7] In August 2010, jury deliberations began in the Blagojevich trial. Rod Blagojevich was convicted on one charge, of lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with a hung jury on 22 other charges. He was retried in June 2011, with Zagel presiding, and the jury returned a guilty verdict on 17 of the remaining counts, including those pertaining to the Obama Senate seat. On December 7, 2011, Zagel sentenced former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich to 14 years in federal prison.

Other interests[edit]

Zagel had roles in two major motion pictures. He played a Chicago judge[8] in the 1989 movie, Music Box, and a physician[9] in the 1991 movie, Homicide, written and directed by David Mamet. Zagel performs in motion pictures under his stage name of J.S. Block.[10] In 2002, Zagel published a novel titled Money to Burn,[11] a fictional thriller about a plot to rob the Federal Reserve Bank.

Personal life[edit]

Zagel and his first wife, Chicago Tribune investigative reporter Pam Zekman, divorced in 1975.[3][6][12] Zagel and his current wife, Margaret Maxwell "Peggy" Zagel, live in the Streeterville neighborhood in downtown Chicago.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b John Shiffman, Kristina Cooke (2013-06-21). "The judges who preside over America's secret court". Reuters. Archived from the original on 2013-06-23. Retrieved 2013-07-01. Twelve of the 14 judges who have served this year on the most secret court in America are Republicans and half are former prosecutors.
  2. ^ a b c d James Block Zagel at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center.
  3. ^ a b c Jeff Coen; Bob Secter (10 May 2010). "Blagojevich trial judge Zagel regarded as smart, unflappable". Clout Street. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 20 August 2013.
  4. ^ Egler, Daniel (23 April 1985). "2 nominees named for U.S. bench". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 13 August 2013.
  5. ^ "The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court: 2013 Membership". Federation of American Scientists. Retrieved June 9, 2013.
  6. ^ a b Family Secrets Mob Trial Capsule. TheChicagoSyndicate Archived 2016-07-23 at the Wayback Machine., June 2007
  7. ^ a b Marcia Froelke Coburn (15 Mar 2010). "'The Celebrity Apprentice,' Episode One: Blago Squeaks Through—Barely". ChicagoMagazine.com. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 20 August 2013. Blago tried to fly under the radar, much like his wife Patti did when she appeared on NBC's I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!, an adventure-reality show shot in Costa Rica. (Blago had wanted to do that show, but a judge wouldn’t let him leave the country.)
  8. ^ "Full cast listing, Music Box (1989)". IMDb. Retrieved 20 August 2013.
  9. ^ "Full cast listing, Homicide (1991)". IMDb. Retrieved 20 August 2013.
  10. ^ "Actor biography for J.S. Block". IMDb.com. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 20 August 2013.
  11. ^ Zagel, James (2002). Money to burn (book) (First ed.). New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons. ISBN 0399148914. Retrieved 14 August 2013.
  12. ^ Witt, Linda (23 June 1985). "Dig she must - Imagine Peggy Fleming crossed with Woodward and Bernstein and you've got Pam Zekman, the best investigative reporter on television". Chicago Tribune. p. 10. Retrieved 20 August 2013. she met her first husband, James B. Zagel, then a young prosecutor in the state`s attorney`s office. They were divorced in 1975.


Legal offices
Preceded by
Frank James McGarr
Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois
Preceded by
James G. Carr
Judge of the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court
Succeeded by
James Parker Jones