Blago’s media blitz complicates task for defense counsel


Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich arrives at federal court for his arraignment on federal racketeering and fraud charges in Chicago, Tuesday, April 14, 2009. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

By Kathleen Foody

With hours of recorded phone calls to slog through and at least two defendants expected to cooperate with the prosecution, Rod Blagojevich’s trial will demand an extra amount of work from his yet to be named legal team.

Blagojevich was indicted on 16 counts including: 11 counts of wire fraud, two counts of attempted extortion, one count for racketeering conspiracy, and one count for extortion conspiracy and one count of making false statements to federal agents. His brother, Robert Blagojevich, was indicted along with four key fundraisers and staff: William Cellini, Alonzo Monk, Christopher Kelly and former chief of staff John Harris.

The Blagojevich defense may argue the recorded statements used by the federal government to indict him were taken out of context, said University law professor Andrew Leipold.

“Even if the defendant were not a former governor, it would take some manpower and some time to defend (this case),” Leipold said. “This is a very public figure, and a public figure not averse to going out and talking about his case on TV. Appearing on reality TV apparently, requires attention if you’re the lawyer.”

Blagojevich went on a “media tour” as the Illinois state Senate was considering his impeachment, and Chicago media have reported he could take part in a Survivor-esque reality show on NBC.

The former governor’s statements that his actions during the media tour were politically based could be a factor in his trial.

Leipold said the effectiveness of the tour could depend on the timing of the trial; people may forget exactly what Blagojevich said if the trial is delayed.

“I don’t think it did him any good,” Leipold said. “There’s a small chance it would do him some harm, but mostly I think the effect of the media tour will be dwarfed by how many of his co-defendants end up testifying against him.”

The timeline of the trial could depend largely on the other defendants, he said. If the others all plead guilty, Blagojevich’s case could move more quickly.

“I’d be a little surprised if his trial has a 2009 date on it,” Leipold added.

“But it all depends on when he gets a lawyer, who they are and whether they think it’s better to move forward quickly or delay.”

Monk and Harris are reported to be cooperating with the prosecution.

“That’s really a double-edged sword,” Leipold said. “On one hand it’s very bad for the defense because presumably, Mr. Harris was in a position to know a lot about what the governor was thinking when he made these statements.”

However, juries tend to be “properly skeptical” of witnesses that testify in exchange for a more lenient sentence. The defense counsel will surely highlight the incentive for Harris to testify, he added.

“The government seems to believe (the testimony) will hurt the governor more than it will help him,” Leipold said. “But that doesn’t mean the jury will buy everything he’s selling.”