Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Blagojevich pleads not guilty

By Hilary Russell

The last time he entered the building, he wore a running suit. This time, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich wore a suit and tie and maintained his innocence against the 16 criminal counts he was charged with in an April 2 indictment.

“His public persona is very consistent, and whether that’s based in confidence or delusion, I have no idea,” said Kent Redfield, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield. “But certainly he doesn’t act like someone who clearly is in jeopardy of spending a large chunk of the rest of his life in jail if he were to be convicted of all of the charges against him.”

U.S. District Judge James Zagel presided over the arraignment at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in downtown Chicago.

Blagojevich pleaded not guilty to all counts and was represented by defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky. According to the Associated Press, Sorosky requested the prosecutor’s permission to use money from one of Blagojevich’s campaign funds, Friends of Blagojevich, to help pay for additional attorneys to represent Blagojevich. Sorosky reportedly stated his concern that it will take more than one attorney to give his client fair representation.

But if Blagojevich were convicted, the Associated Press reported that prosecutors said they would ask the judge to forfeit the campaign money, which would mean that any attorney representing Blagojevich could be forced to return payments received from the campaign fund.

Redfield said that if money became an issue, that could spell trouble for Blagojevich. “The [former] governor faces a real possibility that he is not gonna have the strongest counsel as he would want because this is a very complex trial. There is a ton of discovery involving all those tapes and the defendants. It’s a very complex case, and it’s not clear where he would get the resources to hire a top-notch legal team to defend himself.”

Blagojevich lost his first legal team just prior to the Senate trial in which he was impeached and thrown out of office. Edward Genson, Sam Adam and Adam's son by the same name, cited different reasons for recusing themselves from the case.

Robert Blagojevich, the former governor’s older brother, also appeared at the arraignment today and was represented by Michael Ettinger. Robert Blagojevich was hired by his brother to act as campaign manager after prosecutors began investigating Christopher Kelly, who initially headed the former governor’s campaign fund.

In a statement released by the former governor’s public relations agency, Blagojevich said: “Now we can begin the process of getting the truth out, and I can clear my name and vindicate myself. I have not let down my family or the people of Illinois. I am innocent of every single allegation."

During an appearance with President Barack Obama’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan in Chicago, Gov. Pat Quinn said the only way to clean up state government is by making major changes.

“We have to take the indictment and dissect and identify every part of state government that was put in jeopardy,” Quinn said (download audio file here). “These are allegations, of course, but I think there’s still fire bells going off in the night to alert the people of Illinois and to the governor of Illinois that reform is indispensable.”

Kelly, a former Blagojevich aide, and John Harris, Blagojevich’s former chief of staff, and Springfield businessman William Cellini are scheduled to be arraigned Thursday. Alonzo “Lon” Monk, Blagojevich’s former campaign manager and chief of staff, is scheduled to be in court next week. Harris and Monk are reportedly cooperating with investigators.

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