A recent bid by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich to have corruption charges thrown out because of a delay in payments to his attorneys was quickly derided by veteran lawyers as doomed to failure.
On Monday, when U.S. District Judge James Zagel began a routine hearing by kindly brushing off the idea, saying he would not formally rule on the motion because it had not even been filed properly, the matter seemed all but settled.
"My guess is it won't be presented, and that means it goes away by itself, vanishes into thin air," Zagel said.
Not so fast.
Some 40 minutes later, as the hearing on other issues was concluding, Blagojevich's attorneys continued to press Zagel for a ruling on the motion to dismiss the charges, telling him they were quite serious about it.
It was then that Zagel made his position even clearer: He didn't believe they had raised any legitimate legal arguments.
"It looks like it was intended for an audience other than the court," said Zagel, suggesting the motion was no more than a publicity stunt.
While Blagojevich's knack for the media spotlight is well-documented, some legal experts said perhaps the unorthodox motion could be an attempt at laying the groundwork for an appeal.
But outside court, Blagojevich's attorneys called the lack of payment a serious threat to his right to a fair trial and stood by their plan to refile the proper paperwork so there can still be a hearing.
"You can't have a lawyer who has no resources," said Lauren Kaeseberg, one of Blagojevich's lawyers.
Blagojevich's defense team is being paid for by taxpayers after the court declared the former governor was unable to afford the sizable legal expenses for the April 20 retrial. Blagojevich tapped out his campaign funds paying for his defense in the first trial last summer.
In the motion filed March 9, Blagojevich's attorneys said they had not been paid for months, citing the ongoing federal budget crisis. They also complained that they could not be ready for next month's retrial. The motion went on to call the retrial an "irresponsible use of taxpayer funds" — echoing an argument Blagojevich's lawyers made in the minutes after the jury verdict in the first trial.
While payments had been suspended nationwide in February and again this month because of potential funding shortfalls, Blagojevich's lawyers have since been paid for the work they have sought payment on, Kaeseberg acknowledged.
But Kaeseberg said Blagojevich's legal team would still go forward with its motion because of continuing concerns that Congress could cut or delay the funding again.
"I think contrary to what everyone thinks, we have a legitimate motion," Kaeseberg said. "The issue is does the federal government have the money to retry this case? … If there is no money in (publicly funded) programs, it's a violation of the defendant's right to a fair trial."
Blagojevich was convicted of one count of lying to the FBI, but the jury deadlocked on the remaining 23 counts.
By Annie Sweeney, Tribune reporter