Third attorney leaves Blago defense team

April 6, 2009 3:25:34 PM PDT
Former Governor Rod Blagojevich faces a new obstacle as he mounts his legal defense on corruption charges. Over the weekend he lost a key defense attorney. And there are questions as to how Blagojevich will pay for what is expected to be a lengthy and expensive trial. The former governor has had three defense attorneys who were prepared to help represent him but have now bowed out, one for philosophical differences, the other two for legal conflicts.

Rod Blagojevich will have attorneys at his side when he is arraigned -- presumably sometime this month, the date is not yet set -- but whatever the make-up of his legal team, their task will be time consuming and enormously expensive.

The government's case against Rod Blagojevich will include a mountain of documents, and hundreds of tape-recorded conversations, only a few of which have been publicly played.

All the tapes, all the paper, all the grand jury witness testimony must be thoroughly reviewed before any defense can be mounted.

"In order to take on this case, any team of lawyers is gonna have to be willing to give up their practice for a year to a year and a half just to prepare and another six to seven months for the actual trial," said Prof. Richard Kling, Kent College of Law. "It's an astronomical outlay of time and energy, and there's going to have to be considerable funds to pay for lawyers."

Kling's estimate is that the trial might cost $7 to $10 million. Others ballpark it much higher. Even the most conservative estimates suggest it would cost far more than the $2 million-plus Blagojevich had in his campaign fund as of January. Some of that money's already been spent, and the government wants monies in the fund forfeited.

"If the arraignment is in the next few weeks, it wouldn't surprise me if the trial is 2011 -- 2010 may be pushing it," King said.

The more immediate question is, Who stands at the former governor's side when he's arraigned, and then through the trial? Defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky has represented Blagojevich since his arrest, but Ed Genson bowed out two months ago saying his client wouldn't listen to him. Sam Adam Jr. is out, and now so too is Terry Gillespie because of a conflict.

"I will fight," Blagojevich has said.

If Blagojevich does fight, but has no appreciable income, and the bulk of his campaign funds wind up off limits, his lawyers may have to be paid through the criminal justice act -- federal funds set aside for those who can't afford to pay. Or the former governor, as a former prosecutor, could choose to defend himself.

"He could, but there's the old adage, anybody who represents himself has a fool for a client or a fool for a lawyer, and that's absolutely true," King said.

There are no plans for the former governor to defend himself. His lead attorney is Sheldon Sorosky, who says he'll be there at the arraignment and throughout the trial, whenever it starts.


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