Blagojevich Asks Justice Stevens to Halt June 3 Trial

Rod Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor, asked U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens to halt his June 3 corruption trial until the high court rules on the legality of the federal honest-services fraud law.

The twice-elected 53-year-old Democrat contends he can’t get a fair trial until the Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of the federal law covering fraud schemes to “deprive another of the intangible right to honest services.”

The high court heard argument on the issue in December.

“The unreasonable march toward trial in this case has created an array of constitutional violations and has set the stage for a constitutionally infirm trial,” Blagojevich’s lawyers told Stevens in a court filing today.

Randall Samborn, a spokesman for Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, declined to comment.

Blagojevich was arrested in 2008 by federal authorities and charged with attempting to trade his power to appoint a U.S. Senator to replace then-President-elect Barack Obama for campaign cash or personal favors.

A federal grand jury indicted him in April 2009 on 16 felony counts including racketeering conspiracy, extortion conspiracy and wire fraud. Additional allegations were added in February. Among the statutes under which he was originally charged was the honest-services fraud law.

Maintains Innocence

Blagojevich maintains he is innocent of the charges.

Conrad Black, the former Hollinger International Inc. chairman, and Jeffrey Skilling, the former Enron Corp. chief executive officer, are both challenging their convictions for honest-services fraud in appeals pending before the Supreme Court.

Lawyers for Black and another defendant convicted under the statute, Alaska lawmaker Bruce Weyhrauch, argued to the justices in December that it is too vague to be enforceable.

Black’s trial was held in the same Chicago courthouse where Blagojevich is scheduled to face a federal jury next month.

U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel, who will preside over the trial, already denied Blagojevich’s bid for postponement until the Supreme Court rules in the Black and Weyhrauch cases. The U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago also rejected Blagojevich’s request to delay the trial.

Each justice is assigned to field petitions in different regions of the U.S. Stevens, who’s from Illinois, handles petitions from the Chicago region. He can approve or deny Blagojevich’s request or refer it to the full court. Blagojevich’s lawyers also have asked the high court to block the trial.

Blagojevich faces a sentence of as long as 20 years in prison if convicted on the charges of racketeering, attempted extortion, extortion conspiracy or wire fraud.

The Supreme Court case is Blagojevich v. United States, 09A1121. The criminal case is U.S. v. Blagojevich, 08cr888, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).

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