State agency takes aim at Blagojevich's law license

  • Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich may have raised hopes these days for a commutation from President Donald Trump, but it appears that whenever he goes free from federal prison his law license won't be waiting for him. The Illinois agency that oversees lawyer discipline recently began the process of having Blagojevich disbarred.

    Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich may have raised hopes these days for a commutation from President Donald Trump, but it appears that whenever he goes free from federal prison his law license won't be waiting for him. The Illinois agency that oversees lawyer discipline recently began the process of having Blagojevich disbarred. AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File

 
Posted8/16/2019 5:30 AM

As former Gov. Rod Blagojevich eagerly awaits news on whether President Donald Trump will commute what's left of his 14-year prison sentence, it appears he may have one less thing to return home to whenever he gets out of federal prison -- his law license.

The Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission this month began the process of disbarring the politician-turned reality TV star-turned inmate 40892-424.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"He's chosen not to disbar himself," said James Grogan, the deputy administrator and chief counsel for the agency that oversees lawyer discipline in Illinois.

Technically speaking, Blagojevich has been unable to legally practice law since September 2011, when his license was suspended shortly after his conviction for wire fraud, conspiracy, attempted extortion and other federal crimes. But under state rules, procedures to disbar him couldn't start until after all his appeals were exhausted, Grogan said. That came when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear his case last year.

The commission's complaint says what's pretty obvious to anyone who's followed the Blagojevich saga -- he's committed criminal acts that "reflect adversely on his honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer."

Those acts include soliciting campaign donations from a horse racetrack owner in exchange for legislation benefiting the racing industry, trying to extort the CEO of a children's hospital; and putting the former U.S. Senate seat of Barack Obama up for sale.

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What's next for Blago?

He has until Aug. 28 to file a response to the complaint or he'll be disbarred by default. After that, the commission will schedule a hearing to consider the case against him. His attorney, Sheldon Sorosky, didn't return a call for comment.

The primary evidence will be a certified copy of Blagojevich's conviction. And since the former governor can't retry his case before the commission's panel, it's pretty much an open-and-shut matter from the state agency's perspective.

We'll follow up and let you know what happens.

A few more things

Unlike in some states, disbarment isn't permanent in Illinois, Grogan told us. A disbarred attorney can apply for reinstatement after five years.

And while the president might be able to set Blagojevich free before his scheduled release in March 2024 -- or even give him a full pardon -- it won't help him with the commission.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Essentially, it would have no impact at all on lawyer discipline," Grogan said. "It doesn't obviate the facts that led to the criminal prosecution in the first place."

Blagojevich wouldn't be the first disgraced former governor to lose his law license. Both Otto Kerner and Dan Walker were disbarred following criminal convictions, Grogan told us.

George Ryan? He was a pharmacist before entering state politics.

Michael Buhrman
Michael Buhrman -
Trial then error

When DuPage County Judge Kathryn Creswell sentenced Michael Buhrman to 40 years in prison, she knew the onetime nuclear engineer and Navy veteran was responsible for a bizarre armed carjacking outside a Woodridge shopping center in May 2012.

She knew he'd donned an "old man" mask during the carjacking and told police he committed the crime for "thrill-seeking," fled DuPage County to avoid a trial that went on without him and then skipped out on his sentencing hearing, too.

It was all enough to convince Creswell that Buhrman, despite his service to the country and lack of criminal history, deserved a sentence just five years short of the maximum.

But what the judge didn't know at the time is that two mental health professionals were ready to testify that Buhrman suffered post-traumatic stress disorder from his service in the Navy, during which he served in wartime and saw two shipmates killed in grisly accidents. Or that those experts believed that, with treatment, he was not likely to commit another crime. Or that his mother was prepared to tell the court that her son returned home from serving in the Persian Gulf a changed person and he was acting out of character the weekend before the carjacking.

You know, the kinds of things that might be relevant when deciding a sentence.

But Creswell didn't know any of that because Buhrman's lawyer chose not to call those witnesses at the May 2013 sentencing hearing. And that legal error, a state appellate court has ruled, was enough to earn Buhrman a new sentencing hearing.

The appellate court decision handed down this month upheld another DuPage County judge's order that Buhrman be resentenced on aggravated vehicular hijacking and vehicular hijacking. The DuPage County state's attorney had appealed the decision.

The 38-year-old former Coal City man still faces a minimum 21-year term when resentenced. A sentencing date has not yet been scheduled.

Kane County Sheriff's Sgt. Nick Wolf worked with his partner, Tyront. The 11-year-old Belgian Malinois died this week after suffering a massive stroke. He served the sheriff's office for a decade.
  Kane County Sheriff's Sgt. Nick Wolf worked with his partner, Tyront. The 11-year-old Belgian Malinois died this week after suffering a massive stroke. He served the sheriff's office for a decade. - Susan Sarkauskas | Staff Photographer, 2018
End of watch

RIP to Kane County sheriff's police dog Tyront.

Tyront, who served the sheriff's office for 10 years, was put to sleep Monday night after suffering a massive stroke, according to Sheriff Ron Hain.

"Tyront was easily one of the hardest-working and intense K9s we have ever had," Hain said

We first met Tyront and handler Sgt. Nick Wolf when we wrote about the hazards of opioid overdose for drug-detection dogs.

We know that guy

The Daily Herald's loss is DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick's gain.

Former DH Legal Affairs Writer Justin Kmitch started work last week as the sheriff's public information officer. Good luck, Justin.

Graduates of the Aurora Youth Law Enforcement Academy were honored by Mayor Richard Irvin, center, and the city council Tuesday.
Graduates of the Aurora Youth Law Enforcement Academy were honored by Mayor Richard Irvin, center, and the city council Tuesday. - Courtesy of the city of Aurora
Class unto themselves

Congrats to the 51 young people who graduated recently from Aurora's annual Youth Law Enforcement Academy.

"We know for ourselves that you are going to be the greatest. We look for you to be Aurora's finest real soon -- real soon," said Alderman Scheketa Hart-Burns.

It's the largest class since the program was founded in 2002 as one of three youth initiatives launched in response to a year that saw 26 murders.

The seven-week program is for teens age 14 to 18 who are interested in learning about the law. They meet with police officers, attorneys, Kane County sheriff's deputies, FBI and DEA agents, judges, aldermen, the mayor, the police chief, the Kane County sheriff and the Kane County state's attorney.

"The reality is, you will be the young men and women that will be the leaders of our community," said Mayor Richard Irvin, a former prosecutor and defense attorney who helped start the program when he was an alderman.

• Got a tip or thoughts on a cops and crime-related issue to share? Email copsandcrime@dailyherald.com.

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