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Lawyers: Blago's media blitz worked
By Jamie Sotonoff and Barbara Vitello | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 8/19/2010 12:01 AM

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People mocked Rod Blagojevich when he read David Letterman's Top 10 List, attempted to be Donald Trump's Celebrity Apprentice, refused to let the ladies on "The View" touch his hair, and supported his wife Patti's decision to eat bugs in Central America for a reality show.

But it worked.

"Blagojevich has been crazy like a fox," says Barrington Hills attorney Andrew Stoltmann, who has been following the case.

The many media appearances the former governor has made since his December 2008 arrest, during which he repeatedly has declared his innocence, undoubtedly helped his case, local attorneys say.

"He didn't testify, but he got his message across," said defense attorney Nishay Sanan of North Barrington. "It had some effect in the back of people's minds."

Stoltmann agreed, even suggesting Blagojevich "ramp up" his public relations efforts in hopes of planting a seed in the minds of those who will make up the jury pool in trial number two. Federal prosecutors vow a retrial after jurors announced Tuesday they were deadlocked on 23 of 24 counts. They convicted Blagojevich on a single count of lying to the FBI.

Blago's media blitz is "weird. It's odd. But it plays perfectly into his defense," DuPage County attorney Donald Ramsell added.

So while you're waiting to see more of Blagojevich outside the courtroom, here's what the lawyers foresee happening in his corruption case:

Q: Should federal prosecutors retry Blagojevich and his fundraiser brother Robert?

A: Most say no.

"Should they? No. Will they? Yes," said defense attorney Nishay Sanan of North Barrington.

Attorney Andrew Stoltmann of Barrington Hills believes they should retry the case, but DuPage County attorney Donald Ramsell says it's no longer just about justice.

"Usually a retrial has a lot more to do with bruised egos than a public need for a retrial."

Q: What are the odds of a plea deal to avoid a second trial?

A: Not good.

The odds were better before the first trial, attorneys say. Now, Stoltman puts the odds at 5 percent.

"This is so personal between (U.S. Attorney Patrick) Fitzgerald and Blagojevich. They want their pound of flesh and they're going to get it one way or another," he said.

Ramsell believes now that Blagojevich is out of office, he no longer has an opportunity to imperil the public.

"The government is now prosecuting because the politician Patrick Fitzgerald needs to get egg off his face," Ramsell said.

Q: Could there be reduced or combined charges for Blagojevich's trial No. 2?

A: Yes. Attorneys say the government would be wise to reduce the counts, making the case easier for the jury to understand.

"I will bet you the prosecutors are going to get rid of the Children's Memorial (Hospital), racetrack and Illinois Tollway charges and really keep it focused on the senate seat," Stoltmann said, referring to several charges in which Blagojevich was accused of attempting to extort money in exchange for favorable state actions. Just one holdout kept Blagojevich from conviction on the charge of trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat, jurors said.

"That's going to be their bread and butter," Stoltmann said.

Q: Should they charge Patti Blagojevich in connection with her real estate dealings?

A: No.

It's rare to charge a husband and wife when there are young children involved, the attorneys say.

"In theory, they should be (charging Patti), but there's no way they're going to do it," Stoltmann says.

Q: Should the prosecution call Tony Rezko, Stuart Levine, and/or Jesse Jackson Jr. to the stand?

A: Yes and no.

The panel was divided on the strategy of calling two of Blagojevich's alleged accomplices and the politician who - according to testimony - was being maneuvered toward the Senate seat.

The prosecution can't simply present the same case they did in trial No. 1, so Ramsell said the government ought to call the witnesses. Other attorneys advise not to put them on the stand, with Stoltman likening these witnesses to a nuclear bomb.

"They are radioactive," he said. "If they do call them, all of a sudden the case becomes all about (them)."

Q: Will Blagojevich be at a disadvantage if he isn't represented by flamboyant lawyer Sam Adam and his son the second time around?

A: Not necessarily.

While the Adam family personalities got a lot of attention, most attorneys say a fresh pair of eyes could be a good thing. Stoltmann feared bringing in new lawyers at this point, and starting from scratch, would put them at a tactical disadvantage.

Q: Would you represent Blagojevich if you received a rock-bottom court-ordered fee, but got a load of publicity?

A: Yes and no.

"No thanks. He's an extraordinarily high maintenance client who can't be controlled," Stolmann said. "He's the ultimate migraine-inducing client. You couldn't pay me all the tea in China to put up with that sort of headache."

But Sanan says otherwise. "I think it's an interesting case."