CHICAGO (CBS 2) – A federal judge has excused Rod Blagojevich’s two most prominent attorneys from representing the former governor at his second corruption trial, although the father-son duo of Sam Adam Sr. and Sam Adam Jr. technically remain part of his defense team.
The Adams had filed a motion to withdraw from the case, citing their client’s financial troubles.
Blagojevich has been paying for his defense costs through his campaign fund, but that money dried up after his first corruption trial and he is now seeking public funding for his defense. As a result, U.S. District Judge James Zagel has said that federal court rules limit him to two attorneys and one paralegal paid with public funds.
On Friday, Zagel said that he could not allow the Adams to officially withdraw from the case because Blagojevich was convicted on one of 24 counts at his first trial and post-trial motions and sentencing on that charge are still pending. But Zagel said the Adams would be excused from trial appearances and other duties for the second trial when Blagojevich is tried again on the other 23 counts.
“To put it in simple terms, they don’t have to come to court,” Zagel said.
Defense attorneys Sheldon Sorosky and Aaron Goldstein will stay on board for the second trial. Attorney Lauren Kaeseberg will stay on as a paralegal.
Zagel set a status hearing for the case for Oct. 19. A final retrial date has not yet been set, but Zagel has said he wants to start the second trial in the first week of January.
After court, Sorosky left open the possibility that Sam Adam Jr., who presented dramatic opening statements and closing arguments at Blagojevich’s first trial, would do so for free at the second trial.
“We ask him every day,” Sorosky said.
In their motion to withdraw from the case, the Adams said they planned to “remain in an advisory position assisting with strategy and preparation” but have noted since the end of the first trial that they have other clients and other cases that require their attention.
Sorosky also said it’s possible the smaller defense team could ask Zagel to delay the start of the second trial to give them more time to prepare.
“It is a tremendous burden because two lawyers now have to do the work of what five did previously,” Sorosky said.
Goldstein said that defending Blagojevich with only two trial attorneys and one paralegal would be a hefty responsibility.
“What we’re up against is truly David and Goliath. They are the federal government of the United States of America and we are two attorneys and one … paralegal,” Goldstein said. “The fact is they have infinite amount of resources and we have two attorneys. Can we get a fair trial? We sure can and we’re going to try everything within our power to win this case.”
Gillespie acknowledged that no longer having the Adams working on the case full-time would be a significant loss for the defense team, but he said they cannot try to give the same kind of theatrical defense that the Adams did.
“We have to be ourselves,” Goldstein said. “The Sams are excellent attorneys but they are who they are. I’m not Sam Adam and Sam Adam’s not Aaron Goldstein. So I’m going to be myself and that’s trying as hard as I can to win an acquittal for Rod Blagojevich. I can’t be Sam Adam and I’ll never try to be.”
–Todd Feurer, CBS 2