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Blagojevich Defense Team Still in Flux After IndictmentFormer Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's criminal defense team is still in flux even after a whopping 75-page federal indictment landed on him last week. Blagojevich, who was socked with political corruption charges in December, hasn't been able to solidify his criminal defense team mainly because it has not been clear how he'll pay his lawyers if the U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago freezes his campaign funds. The governor's recent behavior has also hindered assembling a team, lawyers said.
The National Law Journal2009-04-06 12:00:00 AM
Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's criminal defense team is still in flux even as a whopping 75-page federal indictment landed on him this week.
The ex-governor, who was socked with political corruption charges in December, hasn't been able to solidify his criminal defense team mainly because it has been unclear how he will pay his lawyers if the U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago freezes his campaign funds, which otherwise could be used to pay his attorney fees.
While several Chicago criminal defense lawyers, including Terry Gillespie and Alan Brunell, say they have spoken with the governor about working on the case, final decisions have hung in the balance because of a lack of clarity on the money issue and the extensiveness on the indictment. Assessment of those issues can begin now in light of the April 2 indictment naming not only the governor, but also the governor's brother and campaign fund chairman, Robert Blagojevich, among other defendants.
The governor's behavior, including battling one of his attorneys over strategy and his unusual media campaign, also has hindered assembling a defense team, lawyers said.
"As much as lawyers like high-profile cases, even when they aren't sure about being paid in full, Blagojevich may be scaring off some of them because he behaves so bizarrely," said David Yellen, a former criminal defense attorney who is now a law professor and dean of Loyola University Chicago School of Law. "An unpredictable client is worse than a guilty one."
The Blagojevich case is pending in the U.S. District Court for Northern Illinois on allegations he sought personal gain from candidates he was considering appointing to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Pres. Barack Obama, among other things. The U.S. Attorney in Chicago, U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald, said in December that he acted before the indictment was ready to stop Blagojevich's "political corruption spree." USA v. Blagojevich, No. 08-1010.
While the 16-count indictment against the ex-governor, alleging fraud and extortion among other things, didn't name his campaign fund, it did call for the forfeiture of all money held in the fund and, separately, of $188,370 from Blagojevich, listing his Washington apartment and Chicago home as substitute assets. The indictment didn't make clear whether the federal prosecutors would seek to freeze those assets.
The only lawyer who seems to be a sure thing for the governor is Sheldon Sorosky, a family friend with Chicago-based Kaplan & Sorosky who hasn't handled any high-profile cases in the city. After Sorosky showed up with the governor for a hearing in December, most lawyers said they thought he would be a stand-in. Sorosky didn't return calls seeking comment.
None of the major law firms in Chicago have touched the case since Winston & Strawn attorney Brad Lerman and the governor parted ways last year. The big firm lawyers mainly have been working with potential witnesses in the case.
For instance, Jenner & Block's Anton 'Tony' Valukas has been representing Tribune Co. Chairman and real estate magnate Sam Zell, who federal prosecutors allege was the target of a Blagojevich scheme to extract campaign contributions.
Blagojevich has recruited Gillespie, a long-time, well known criminal defense attorney with Chicago-based Genson & Gillespie, to provide guidance, but Gillespie said recently that whether he joins the team is an open question that depends on the breadth of the indictment and the ex-governor's capacity to pay attorney fees. Gillespie hasn't yet filed an appearance with the court for the case.
Gillespie's partner Edward Genson bailed out of the case in January after a disagreement with Blagojevich and other attorneys, Sam Adam, Sr., and his son Sam Adam, Jr. over a national media blitz campaign. While junior has dropped out of the case, senior is still considering it, other lawyers involved in the case said. Blagojevich hasn't given up on his media approach either, appearing on a Chicago radio show last month.
Attorney Michael Ettinger, with Palos Heights, Illinois-based Ettinger, Besbekos & Schroeder, has been representing Robert and the campaign fund, but has also been trying unsuccessfully to bring Genson back to the governor's team. Robert may also be eligible to draw on the campaign funds, which could reduce the amount available for his brother.
Brunell, a solo practitioner based in Orland Park, Illinois, had been asked to consider working for the governor, but still didn't know what role he might play on the day of the indictment.
Chicago-based attorney Judith Dobkin, a solo practitioner who has also been asked to join Blagojevich team, said days before the indictment that she didn't know whether she would be a part of the group.