Saturday, December 13, 2008

Does Blagojevich Get Due Process?

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich pulled a Gary Hart at a rally on Monday daring investigators to wiretap him; they will find nothing, he said.

On Tuesday morning at 6:30AM FBI agents arrested the Governor at his home.

Calls for his resignation reverberated throughout Chicago on Wednesday. President-Elect Obama echoed the calls.

On Friday, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan petitioned the Illinois Supreme Court to enjoin Blagojevich from acting as Governor pending impeachment on grounds that under Illinois law the Governor “was unfit to remain in office.”

Has anyone else noticed that the Governor hasn’t even been indicted, much less tried or convicted? He has yet to confront the witnesses or hear the tapes. He has had no access to the evidence against him, except in the 78 page complaint, of whch 76 pages are an FBI affadavit.

We do have a presumption of innocence in our country, and both procedural and substantive due process for the accused. Even the 9/11 conspirators in Gitmo are getting their day in court.

We teach our law students that there are two sides to every story. So far we have only heard Patrick Fitzgerald, the prosecutor, and that was in the form of a highly inflammatory, prejudicial opening statement that can well be held to contaminate the jury pool.

His statements at the press conference accused Blagojevich of “a political corruption crime spree”, “conduct that would make Lincoln roll over in his grave”, and “has taken us to a new low.” Fitzgerald’s words included “appalling”, “staggering” and “cynical.” These are all conclusions and not statements of fact. Professional ethics limit the prosector to statements of fact at this stage of the proceedings. We can draw our own conclusions from the facts.

The response is a rush to judgment against the Governor. Like the fall of Governor Elliott Spitzer in New York, no one in his own party has stepped up to defend him. Both governors lacked a friend in the legislature.

The grounds are apparently that his act of corruption, trying to sell the open Senate seat on a traditional “play to pay” basis, exceeds the recognized bounds of corruption in Chicago and Illinois.

The other basis is that he is an embarrassment to Illinois.

This in the state where three of the previous 8 governors, Otto Kerner, Dan Walker, and George Ryan, were incarcerated for corruption. Otto Kerner’s other claim to fame is that after the national riots of 1967 he was appointed by President Johnson to Chair the President’s National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (The Kerner Commission, followed by the Kerner Report).

This in the state where Senator Richard Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, has requested that President Bush commute the sentence of Governor Ryan, a Republican, to time served.

Illinois is the state where Paul Powell, the Illinois Secretary of State, died in 1970, and boxes containing $800,000 in cash were found in his residence.

Illinois and Texas are the states, which in 1960 through Mayor Richard A Daley of Chicago and Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson of Texas, which many believe may have stolen the 1960 Presidential Election. If true, that is political corruption of the highest degree!

The Governor’s real crime is that he has managed over the course of six years in office to antagonize almost every major political figure in Illinois, especially Lisa Madigan and her father, the powerful Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives. His political opponents were waiting for The Opportunity, handed to them on a silver platter by Fitzgerald.

Lisa’s petition reeks of political hypocrisy and a conflict of interest. Not only was she interested in the appointment to the open Senate seat, but earlier announced plans to run for Governor in 2 years. Her office turned over to Fitzgerald in 2006 her own investigatory files on alleged corruption by the Governor.

If Blagojevich resigns, is impeached or removed by the Illinois Supreme Court, then the Senate selection will be made by Lt. Governor Pat Quinn, a true team player in the Illinois sense of the term.

That Chicago and Illinois are shocked by Blagojevich’s indictment is shocking! He has been under investigation since 2003, a year after election to the governorship. The only open question was when would the indictment come?

That he has sought pay for play for a Senate seat is hardly shocking, much less novel, in a country where not only senatorships have been sold, but so too have judgeships and pardons.

That a governor is corrupt is hardly a unique proposition either in Illinois or the rest of the country. Corruption is bi-partisan. Convicted Governors in addition to the Illinois trio include Dan Hunt (R Alabama), Jim Guy Tucker (D Arkansas), Edward DiPrete (R Rhode Island), Edwin Edwards (D Louisiana), Arch Moore (R West Virginia), John Rowland (R Connecticut), Don Seligman (D Alabama), and Fife Symington (R Arizona). Governor Ray Blanton (D Kentucky) was never indicted for the sale of pardons, but several of his aides were convicted.

Prior to George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich, Maryland had the record for a back to back twofer with Spiro Agnew and Marvin Mandel. Spiro Agnew was especially noteworthy because he was only indicted after he became Richard Nixon’s first Vice President.

Let me also add that here in Orange County we are witnessing the corruption trial of “America’s Sheriff” Mike Carona.

Blagojevich was reelected in 2006. His proclivity for corruption was widely known, or should I say, suspected in Illinois. The Chicago firm of Winston & Strawn has billed him $2,500,000 in legal fees for representation in the on-going investigations, but may have dropped him in this case. The Friends of Blagojevich Fund has paid $2,000,000 to date to the firm, but seems to have run out of fund raising ability.

Governor Rod Blagojevich may be a sleeze, but he’s still entitled to due process.

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