Blagojevich asks to cancel retrial
Ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich asked a judge Wednesday to cancel his upcoming retrial on political corruption charges and promptly sentence him on the sole conviction from the first trial, saying money woes prevent him from mounting an ample defense.
A five-page motion filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago insists that Blagojevich isn't conceding any guilt, including on the conviction of lying to the FBI. That's the lone count jurors agreed on last year at his otherwise deadlocked trial, where he was accused of trying to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat.
The motion says the impeached governor, whose legal bills are supposed to be paid by the government, wants to forgo a retrial on the grounds that none of his lawyers have been paid for months of pretrial preparations.
"Should this motion be granted . . . funds for the second trial would no longer be necessary," the motion says. That means, it continues, "no further cost to taxpayers."
Blagojevich, 54, faces up to five years in prison for the conviction of lying to federal investigators about his fund-raising tactics. It was widely expected that a sentencing date for that conviction would be set only after the retrial was over.
At that trial do-over, currently scheduled to start on April 20, Blagojevich faces 20 charges, including the claim that he sought to sell or trade the Senate seat in exchange for a top job or campaign cash. Many of the charges that would be the focus of a second trial, including fraud and attempted extortion, carry a far stiffer maximum sentence -- 20 years in prison.
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.
Just minutes after jurors at the first trial declared they could reach a verdict on only one count, prosecutors vowed to try the case again. Since then, they have given no hint that they would settle with the one conviction.
One legal observer said Blagojevich's request was a long shot, at best.
"The chances of prosecutors or the judge going along with this are 0.0 percent," said Michael Helfand, a Chicago attorney not linked to the Blagojevich case.
Defense lawyers must know prosecutors won't agree, Helfand added, speculating that Blagojevich's legal team might be trying to influence would-be retrial jurors.
"Maybe the message the public receives is, 'This seems reasonable. Why go through a whole new trial when Blagojevich is willing to be sentenced and make this go away?'" he said.
Wednesday's motion says a dearth of available funds for defense attorneys undermines their ability to conduct investigations or seek expert opinions. As a result, it says the defense won't be fully prepared to go to trial on April 20.
"The financial hardship . . . has created a vast inequity," the motion says. "The government continues to have every resource at its disposal. Yet, the defense is stymied in its ability to prepare for trial."
A nearly $3 million fund that Blagojevich drew on at his first trial to pay a team of around a dozen attorneys ran dry as the initial trial finished. Months later, presiding Judge James Zagel ruled that Blagojevich would be allowed to retain only two lawyers and a paralegal on the taxpayer's dime.