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Ill. governor's lawyer: I might sue to stop trial

Friday, January 23, 2009 , Posted by Linda at 10:30 AM

CHICAGO – Facing almost certain defeat in a Senate impeachment trial, Gov. Rod Blagojevich might ask the courts to step in and block a proceeding that he considers "a sham," a lawyer for the Democratic governor said Thursday.

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich leaves his home in Chicago, Thursday, Jan. 22, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich leaves his home in Chicago, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2009.

Attorney Samuel E. Adam told The Associated Press on Thursday that a lawsuit challenging what he called "completely unfair" Senate trial rules is being prepared and could be filed to the state Supreme Court within days, pending a final decision on whether to move forward.

Blagojevich's trial is set to begin Monday.

The governor told the AP he has no intention of mounting a defense unless rules are changed before the Senate trial that will determine whether he's thrown out of office.

"Give me a right to call witnesses, give me a right to subpoena witnesses and documents, to properly prepare a case — and I'll be the first one there," said Blagojevich, whose voice rose as he spoke. Otherwise, "I'm not going to be a party to a process like that.

"And if it means I have to sacrifice myself to a higher cause, for the people of Illinois and for the principle of due process and the right to call witnesses, then so be it," Blagojevich said.

But Blagojevich added he does not intend to resign.

"I'm not going to resign, of course not," he said. "I've done absolutely nothing wrong."

In an outline of potential arguments provided to the AP, Adam critcized House impeachment proceedings for denying Blagojevich's attorneys the right to cross-examine witnesses. It also said senators must accept House evidence that assumes various claims against the governor are true, such as federal corruption charges and allegations Blagojevich illegally expanded a health care program.

But the trial rules gave Blagojevich a chance to challenge whether there was sufficient evidence for impeachment, which he rejected when he didn't file anything by the deadline Tuesday.

Blagojevich's attorneys also could argue that senators should give the House's evidence little weight because the governor hadn't been able to challenge it or cross-examine witnesses.

The state Senate plans to begin the trial Monday regardless of whether Blagojevich participates, said Rikeesha Phelon, a spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago. Phelon dismissed the governor's criticism of the trial as "an unfortunate sideshow."

Blagojevich has not submitted any list of proposed witnesses to the Senate, which will have the final say in who testifies, but the rules bar testimony from anyone that federal prosecutors say would jeopardize the criminal case against Blagojevich. Adam's outline also complained that the governor can't question people who would help his case, such as President Barack Obama's chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.

"The truth of the matter is, the way the rules are set up, we can't mount a defense," Adam said Thursday. "The people of Illinois are getting the shaft here because they won't allow their elected officials to present a defense."

Adam and Blagojevich's other attorneys announced last week that they would not participate in the Senate trial — Adam and his father compared it to a lynching — and said his conviction is guaranteed. A conviction in the Senate would have no impact on the continuing criminal case against Blagojevich. Blagojevich said he agreed with his attorneys' decision.

As for a lawsuit, one legal expert said the governor has little chance of blocking impeachment through the courts.

"He might have a prayer but not much more than that. It is extremely unlikely that a court would intervene," said Andrew Leipold, University of Illinois law professor who noted the judicial branch is hesitant to interfere with responsibilities of the legislative branch.

The FBI arrested Blagojevich Dec. 9 on corruption charges, including the allegation that he schemed to benefit from his power to name President Barack Obama's replacement in the U.S. Senate.

His arrest triggered impeachment proceedings, and the House voted almost unanimously to send his case to the Senate for a trial that will determine whether he's thrown out of office.

The attorney who will present the case against Blagojevich, David Ellis, has asked the Senate to let him call 13 witnesses, most of whom have no direct knowledge of the accusations against Blagojevich. Eight witnesses are lawmakers who will recap the conclusions of a House committee that investigated Blagojevich and recommended his impeachment.

Ellis did not return calls Thursday seeking comment.

One of the proposed witnesses, Rep. Gary Hannig, D-Litchfield, said Ellis didn't want to do anything that might interfere with the criminal case, so he wasn't calling anyone involved in those allegations. Instead, House members will discuss the evidence outlined in a criminal complaint against Blagojevich — primarily snippets from conversations recorded by federal wiretaps.

But Blagojevich is being impeached for actions that have nothing to do with the federal charges. He is accused, for instance, of wasting tax dollars on a foreign flu vaccine that he knew would never be allowed into the United States, and of illegally expanding a health program that lawmakers had voted down.

Hannig said he didn't know why Ellis, the legal counsel to House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, chose not to call Blagojevich aides with direct knowledge of those decisions.

Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, said he worries that having lawmakers testify might politicize the impeachment process.

Righter said he had expected the trial to include testimony from people directly involved in some of the charges against Blagojevich. He also said the trial rules were designed to minimize politics, but appointing a Madigan aide as prosecutor and calling lawmakers as witnesses amounts to "a step backwards."

Righter said other senators shared his concerns but that he had heard no discussion of trying to keep the House members from testifying.

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