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CHICAGO � As a federal probe continues to circle the office of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, backers of the Democratic governor will be counting on one man in particular to keep the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago at bay. Brad Lerman is the lead Winston & Strawn partner representing the Blagojevich campaign, which backed the governor’s re-election in 2006. Blagojevich last month was officially pinpointed as the “Official A” cited in court documents filed by federal prosecutors in a political corruption case against Democratic fundraiser Antoin “Tony” Rezko, who is now on trial in a federal court in Chicago. U.S. v. Rezko, No. 05-691 (N.D. Ill.). Rezko was a fundraiser for Blagojevich and U.S. Senator Barack Obama, a Democratic presidential contender. While prosecutors have not charged Blagojevich with wrongdoing in the Rezko case, one court document filed in December 2007 by prosecutors suggests he was willing to award contracts and other work in exchange for fundraising help. The U.S. attorney’s office, led by Patrick Fitzgerald, also has said it is investigating state hiring practices. Randall Samborn, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago, declined to comment on any investigation related to the governor. Lerman, a former federal prosecutor, isn’t intimidated by the prospect of working with governors. He built a case against one in the mid-1990s when he was involved in the Whitewater case against former Arkansas Governor Jim Guy Tucker, who resigned in 1996 after a conviction for fraud and conspiracy. U.S. v. McDougal, No. 89-161 (E.D. Ark.). Lerman also unsuccessfully defended another governor in the 2006 trial of former Illinois Governor George Ryan in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago. Ryan is now serving a 6 1/2-year sentence for political corruption, though he’s appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court. U.S. v. Warner, No. 02-506. ‘Ready-made experience’ Lerman, 51, is developing a reputation as the go-to lawyer for politicians slipping into legal danger zones. “That’s a huge ready-made base of experience for someone that might be similarly situated,” said Mayer Brown attorney Vince Connelly, who once supervised Lerman in the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago. Lerman declined to name other colleagues working on the Blagojevich matter, saying only “it’s a very small team.” He also declined to talk about the status of the investigation. Blagojevich’s campaign has said that some legal fees have been paid to the firm in connection with the probe. “I don’t think it’s a matter of politicians in trouble, but a question of politicians who have a need,” Lerman said. Lerman has also defended companies that include McDonald’s Corp. and Philip Morris USA Inc. against class actions that claim their products are harmful. And he has represented top corporate officials in U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigations. In the Ryan trial, Lerman deferred to Winston & Strawn colleague Dan Webb, formerly the U.S. attorney in Chicago. Webb, who last year began serving as the Chicago firm’s chairman, has his hands full with four trials scheduled for this year and isn’t working for the Blagojevich campaign, he said. “Lerman was probably doing a tremendous amount of the heavy lifting” on the Ryan trial, Connelly said. From 1986 to 1994, Lerman was an assistant U.S. attorney and later deputy in various divisions of the office, including the special prosecutions area handling political corruption and the major crimes division. In 1994, Lerman moved his family to Little Rock, Ark., to work on the prosecution of Tucker as part of the federal Whitewater investigation that entangled former President Bill Clinton and a host of other Arkansas associates. He worked on the case for two years, but was forced to leave on the eve of the trial in March 1996 for family reasons, he said. “It was an opportunity to work on the most interesting, complex and high-profile case in the country at the time,” Lerman said.

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