With the start date for his impeachment trial rapidly approaching, Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s anger over proceedings he considers a sham could lead to a legal showdown in Illinois’ highest court.
With the start date for his impeachment trial rapidly approaching, Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s anger over proceedings he considers a sham could lead to a legal showdown in Illinois’ highest court. A lawsuit challenging "completely unfair" Senate trial rules is being prepared and could be filed with the state Supreme Court within days, pending a final decision on whether to move forward, Blagojevich attorney Samuel E. Adam told The Associated Press on Thursday. Standing alongside Adam outside the attorney’s Chicago office, the Democratic governor said 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. Blagojevich faces almost certain defeat in the trial, which is set to begin next week. "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, he said, he won’t show up. But he does not intend to resign. "I’m not going to resign, of course not," Blagojevich said. "I’ve done absolutely nothing wrong." 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." One legal expert said Blagojevich 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, a University of Illinois law professor who noted the judicial branch is hesitant to interfere with responsibilities of the legislative branch. 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 corruption trial against the governor. "The truth of the matter is, the way the rules are set up, we can’t mount a defense," Adam said Thursday. The attorney provided the AP with an outline of arguments he said would be made in a lawsuit. It calls previous House impeachment proceedings "a mockery of the Constitution" for denying Blagojevich’s attorneys the right to cross-examine witnesses. But now that the case has shifted to the Senate, trial rules say the governor’s attorneys can’t object to introducing the earlier testimony. The outline also said senators must accept House evidence that assumes various claims against the governor are true, such as federal corruption charges and allegations that 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. And even with the House impeachment findings admitted into evidence, Blagojevich’s attorneys could still argue that senators should give them little weight because the governor hadn’t been able to challenge it or cross-examine witnesses. The FBI arrested Blagojevich Dec. 9 on a variety of corruption charges, including the allegation that he schemed to benefit from his power to name 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 trial. Adam and Blagojevich’s other attorneys announced last week that they would not participate in the Senate trial because biased rules guaranteed a conviction. A conviction in the Senate would have no impact on the continuing criminal case. Blagojevich said he agreed with his attorneys’ decision. 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. Wills reported from Springfield. Associated Press writers Andrea Zelinski in Springfield and Deanna Bellandi in Chicago, as well as photographer Charles Rex Arbogast in Chicago, contributed to this report.
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