Blagojevich: Just Sentence Me Now
UPDATED 03/09/11 3:16 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Deposed Gov. Rod Blagojevich wants a judge to cancel his retrial this spring and instead just sentence him right away on the conviction from his first trial.
Blagojevich is set to go on trial for the second time in April. But his attorneys filed the motion in U.S. District Court Wednesday to call it all off, claiming that the former governor’s financial problems prevent him from mounting an effective defense.
“The government’s continued prosecution of this case should cease. This case was tried once, at a full trial which lasted over two months,” Blagojevich’s attorneys wrote in their motion to dismiss the rest of the case against him. “While Blagojevich still maintains his innocence on every charge, he stands convicted, after the first trial, of the offense of making a false statement. He must be sentenced on that conviction.”
In his first trial last year, Blagojevich was convicted on just one charge of lying to the FBI. The jury deadlocked on the other 23 counts against him.
Blagojevich paid for that first trial with money from his political campaign fund, but that money dried up by the end of the first trial and now the federal government has to foot the bill for his defense.
U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel has ruled that Blagojevich can have public funds for two attorneys and a paralegal. But Blagojevich’s attorneys said in the motion that they haven’t been paid in almost nine months.
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“This has caused a significant hardship and has deprived Blagojevich of his right to effective assistance of counsel as required by the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution,” defense attorneys wrote. The financial hardship this has caused defense counsel has created a vast inequity in this case between the government and the defense. The government continues to have every resource at its disposal. Yet, the defense is stymied in its ability to prepare for trial.”
Blagojevich’s defense team noted that they have not been able to pay for private office space, investigators or expert witnesses as they prepare for the retrial. As a result, they said they would not be prepared for the second trial when it begins on April 20.
Court officials couldn’t offer details about money due or paid to Blagojevich attorneys.
Michael Dobbins, clerk of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, told The Associated Press that vouchers from Blagojevich’s attorneys for their work on the case were submitted in mid-February and — by happenstance — checks were approved on Wednesday morning in Washington, D.C.
“The checks were cut today and going out in the mail,” he said. He couldn’t say the amounts of the checks.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Chicago, Kim Nerheim, declined to comment on the defense motion.
Defense attorney Sam Adam Jr. – who led the Blagojevich defense team at the first trial, but has since withdrawn from the case – said Wednesday afternoon that the motion is a simple matter of protecting Blagojevich’s Constitutional right to counsel.
“We’re getting now to the exact heart of what the Constitution is about: effective representation, effective counsel,” Adam said. “These lawyers should be commended for going nine months without a single complaint. … They simply can’t go forward anymore without the ability to get investigations done, without being able to subpoena people.”
Adam told CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli that there’s no way for Blagojevich to get a fair trial when he is retried in April unless his attorneys get proper funding to pay for investigators, expert witnesses and other resources.
“They are out of money. They went nine months with never, never getting a paycheck,” Adam said. “How is that America? How does that go right to the Constitution where you have a right to competent counsel? It doesn’t and it can never be fair this way.”
Blagojevich’s defense attorneys also said in their motion that continuing the case at a time when the federal government is considering major budget cuts would be a waste of government funds when Blagojevich already has been convicted of lying to the FBI.
Adam also said that he believes it is a waste of taxpayer money to continue paying to prosecute Blagojevich a second time, after jurors were deadlocked on most of the charges against him at his first trial.
“Our taxes, your taxes, my taxes are being raised to go through a second trial after they couldn’t catch him on anything on the first trial; not one thing that they do when it came to corruption,” Adam said.
“Why are we wasting all of these resources, paying hundreds of FBI agents, tens of U.S. attorneys, hundreds of court personnel, jurors, investigators to go out and do the things that have to be in a trial?” he added. “Why should the taxpayers be forced to pay anything and they couldn’t get him the first time and now they want to go through the second time because, for some reason, they find it important.”
Adam said the money being spent on the Blagojevich case could be put to better use helping local police departments fight crime on the streets.
“Think about it, right now, there’s a police officer or somebody in law enforcement that’s gonna kiss their wife for the last time when these funds could have been out there stopping, catching that gun, getting that gun off the street,” Adam said. “But they’re spending it on Blagojevich.”
CBS 2 Legal Analyst Irv Miller said that “there is absolutely no chance” that Zagel would grant Blagojevich’s motion.
Miller said that the main reason the motion was filed was to try to get Zagel’s help in getting Blagojevich’s legal bills paid.
“They’re starting now a month and a half before trial to put in a lot of time on this particular case and nobody’s getting paid. The lawyers aren’t getting paid, the investigator isn’t getting paid. There are certain other overhead expenses that have to be paid and it’s crunch time,” Miller said. “They have to put their practice aside and work on this case and it’s a monetary thing and what they’re hoping is that Judge Zagel will put a little pressure on bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., in order to have a paycheck cut for them so they can continue with his representation.”
If Blagojevich is convicted at his second trial, the attorneys can appeal and say they were not paid, and therefore could not be effective, Miller said.
Blagojevich faces a maximum five-year sentence for his single conviction, and a possible 20-year sentence for many of charges on which he is to be retried.
Late last month, prosecutors dropped three of the remaining charges against him, cutting the total number of counts to 20. The charges that were dismissed were count one, two and four in the original indictment — racketeering, racketeering conspiracy and wire fraud.
Prosecutors dropped those charges in an effort to simplify their case against Blagojevich, after several jurors at his first trial complained that the government’s case was too complicated.
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