Legals bills could have motivated gov.

December 11, 2008 3:48:19 PM PST
What motivated the alleged money grab by Governor Blagojevich? It may be sizeable legal bills.By late October, Gov. Rod Blagojevich had been in the crosshairs of a federal investigation for three years.

For that entire period, the powerhouse law firm of Winston and Strawn was standing behind him.

But sources familiar with the situation say that Winston and Strawn wanted to be paid for back legal fees and Blagojevich needed money.

The governor's open tab at the law firm was already at $2 million, according to legal sources.

The firm - made famous by chairman Jim Thompson, the former governor, and by litigator Dan Webb, the former U.S. Attorney - told Blagojevich that he needed to pay his outstanding bill by the end of the year.

According to the most recent campaign records the governor filed with the state, he paid Winston and Strawn $1.1 million but still owed the company a seven figure tab.

Blagojevich is said to have offered Winston and Strawn half of the money. The firm wanted the entire bill paid.

"I can't comment on that, it was a mutual parting of the ways," said James Thompson, former Illinois governor.

According to the governor's most recent campaign contribution records on file with state election officials, Blagojevich raised $1.1 million the first six months of this year. He had $3.6 million in the bank as of June 30.

But by the time Barack Obama was elected president in early November, that fund was being depleted and Blagojevich's hired guns, the same team that handled the corruption defense for former governor George Ryan, terminated their representation.

Sources tell the ABC7 I-Team that when the governor's offer came up short, it gave Winston and Strawn the opportunity to cut ties before an official case was in the system and a judge might have forced them to remain as his council.

After losing former governor George Ryan's pro bono corruption case and losing nearly $30 million in legal fees, the firm did not want to be connected to another scandalous case of an alleged crooked governor.

Word is that loyalty to Blagojevich waned when Dan Webb replaced Thompson as law firm chairman in 2006. And that tying up Webb, who brings in top dollars, to a case that might not generate any money, was too high a price to pay.

"We don't abandon clients if they are in trouble. It had nothing to do with it," said Thompson.

On Tuesday, when federal authorities charged the governor they said that Mr. Blagojevich was heard complaining about his finances on undercover FBI recordings.

It was during the first few weeks of November that the governor allegedly tried to sell his golden prize: the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Pres.-elect Obama.

According to federal agents, Blagojevich told his chief of staff on tape, "I want to make money."

Governor Blagojevich's primary legal counsel at Winston and Strawn was Brad Lehrman. He did not reply to a phone message left by ABC7 Thursday afternoon.

Mr. Blagojevich is currently represented by a lawyer named Sheldon Sorosky, a Blagojevich campaign donor himself and one of the governor's appointees to a state board. If the case goes to trial, it is expected that the governor will retain new counsel.


Load Comments