Blagojevich Asks Judge to Toss Most Criminal Counts

Rod Blagojevich, former governor of Illinois
Rod Blagojevich, former governor of Illinois, speaks to the media as he arrives for his arraignment at the Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago, on April 14, 2009. Photographer: John Zich/Bloomberg

Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, facing a June 3 corruption trial, asked a judge to throw out 19 of the 24 counts he faces, arguing they’re based on a law the U.S. Supreme Court may soon overturn.

The high court in December heard arguments in a challenge to the federal fraud statute used in Blagojevich’s prosecution that makes it a crime for government or corporate officials to deprive taxpayers or shareholders of their “honest services.”

The statute is “vague, indefinite and uncertain,” unconstitutionally depriving Blagojevich of notice of the “nature” of the accusations against him, his lawyers said today in a filing in federal court in Chicago.

Supreme Court justices are considering whether the honest-services law is specific enough to give notice of what conduct is illegal in reviewing the fraud conviction of former Hollinger International Inc. Chairman Conrad Black.

Last month, U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel in Chicago denied Blagojevich’s bid to postpone the trial until after the court rules on Black’s appeal, calling the request a “red herring.”

“The issue in this case is simply who did what when, and what was their state of mind when they did it,” Zagel said in March.

Obama’s Seat

Blagojevich, a twice-elected Democrat, was first charged in December 2008 with attempting to trade the Illinois U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama for campaign cash or personal favors. He was impeached and removed from office last year by Illinois lawmakers.

Indicted in April 2009, Blagojevich has maintained he is innocent.

U.S. prosecutors in February obtained a revised indictment, adding eight new counts, so they could continue toward trial if the Supreme Court ruling voids the charges based on the honest-services law.

Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald prosecuted both the Blagojevich and Black. Randall Samborn, a Fitzgerald spokesman, declined to comment on today’s filing.

In a later filing, lawyers for the ex-governor renewed their request to delay the trial until after the Supreme Court rules on the statute.

Potential Witnesses

Separately, they also asked Zagel to bar testimony from potential witnesses awaiting sentencing on federal crimes.

Among them are former gubernatorial adviser Antoin “Tony” Rezko, who was convicted of fraud after a federal trial in 2008 and two former chiefs of staff, John Harris and Alonzo “Lon” Monk, who were charged with Blagojevich.

The promise of leniency in sentencing in exchange for useful testimony “is nothing short of bribery by the government,” the defense attorneys said.

Samborn also declined to comment on those later filings.

Blagojevich faces as long as 20 years in prison if convicted on the most serious charges of racketeering, attempted extortion or wire fraud and as long as 10 years on the one charge of bribery.

Prosecutors, in a response to the defense request to the motion to bar Rezko and the others from testifying, said the objection pertained to what weight jurors would give the witnesses’ potential testimony, not its admissibility.

The case is U.S. v. Blagojevich, 08-cr-00888, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).

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