Legal experts say it's highly unlikely a federal judge will approve former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's request to forgo his upcoming trial and proceed directly to sentencing.
"I love the motion. It takes a lot of chutzpah to file a motion like this," laughed DePaul law professor Leonard Cavise. "It’s got no chance in hell of winning."
Cavise notes that Blagojevich does not offer to plead to any of the charges under which he faces retrial. In fact, his motion doesn’t offer anything in the way of negotiation.
"He doesn’t even promise that he won’t appeal a five-year sentence," he adds. "He doesn’t say, 'I’ll forget the rest of it. I’ll forget my appeal rights.’ He just says, ‘Let’s forget it, and sentence me, and be done with it!'"
In the first trial, Blagojevich was convicted on a single count of lying to the FBI.
In Wednesday's unexpected motion, the former governor’s attorneys asked that he be sentenced immediately on that one guilty count. The remaining counts, they argue, slated for retrial next month, should be forgotten "in the interests of justice and saving taxpayer funds."
"A second prosecution of this case is an irresponsible use of taxpayer funds in light of the current economic crisis,” writes Blagojevich attorney Lauren Kaeseberg, noting that the federal government faces shutdown over continuing budget woes. Forget the second trial, the motion argues, and “the government could, in turn, focus its financial resources on new investigations that have come to their attention.”
The motion marks the first time that Blagojevich indicated he was willing to accept sentencing and a possible jail term. But most legal observers said the gambit offers little the government would even consider.”
"This is a motion intended for the public, not the legal process," said former federal prosecutor Ron Safer. "This is a motion that says to the government, 'You know that trial that you’re thinking of having against me? I don’t really think it’s a good idea! You should just not do it.' And the odds of (U.S. Attorney) Pat Fitzgerald saying, 'You know I hadn’t thought of that,’ are pretty low."
In reality, it is another section of the motion which reveals the legal team’s chief complaint. The Blagojevich lawyers, who are to be paid under a federal program for indigent clients, say they have not received a dime, impacting their ability to provide the former governor with an adequate defense.
"The only thing they can get is an IOU from the federal government," said former defense lawyer Sam Adam Jr. "They have to stand behind China. They’ve got to stand behind Russia to get those IOUs honored."
"Can we have a government take away lawyers, make sure they’re not paid, go up against the federal government that can simply write the check they want, and does that mean equal protection under the laws and having competent counsel? The answer is clearly no.”
Court observers say government-supplied lawyers frequently wait long periods for their compensation and that the money argument will likely fall on deaf ears.
"Judge [James] Zagel will see it for what it is,” Safer said. “Something not aimed toward him. And he will deny it, without a hearing.”
Law professor Cavise said that while he questions the merits or even the legality of the Blagojevich motion, he agrees with the lawyers there should not be a retrial.
"The guy’s a convicted felon," he notes. "He’s been removed as the governor of Illinois. On the one count on which he was convicted, he’s going to do already close to five years. Why are we trying this case again? So we can get six years? So we can get seven years? Who cares?”