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First steps being taken toward Blagojevich retrial
Associated Press

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich should learn details of the pending retrial this morning.

 

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Published: 8/26/2010 8:17 AM | Updated: 8/26/2010 10:42 AM

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A little more than a week after former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's monthslong federal corruption trial ended with jurors deadlocked on all but one charge, the first steps are being taken toward doing it all over again.

A hearing scheduled for Thursday is the first since a mistrial was declared on 23 of 24 charges, including allegations that Blagojevich tried to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's former Senate seat. Prosecutors immediately announced that they would retry the impeached governor on the undecided counts.

When the retrial might take place and who will be defending Blagojevich are matters that need to be worked out -- and they could come up Thursday.

Judge James Zagel told attorneys in a private meeting last week that he was worried that if a trial started soon, it could spill into the Christmas holidays -- posing a hardship for jurors -- so he may want to hold it off until at least January, Blagojevich attorney Sheldon Sorosky said.

The thornier issue is the future makeup of Blagojevich's defense team.

With his own legal funds spent, Blagojevich's may have to rely on a publicly funded defense. That means Zagel could slash the number of attorneys at his disposal in any retrial.

Blagojevich has used up the nearly $3 million in a leftover campaign fund he was able to draw on to pay his lawyers during the first trial.

The Democrat had half a dozen attorneys at his first trial, but Zagel could rule he'll now get only two.

"That's what the system says in these situations, 'That's all you're going to get,'" said former federal prosecutor Phil Turner. "'Nobody else gets more than two, so why should you?'"

Turner said given the complexity of the case, Zagel may have to consider perceptions Blagojevich would be in an unfair fight with only two attorneys.

"The government has an army and, OK, this guy's not a good guy," he said. "But it provokes a sense of unease. The public loses confidence in the court system. This is a real conundrum."

It's not only an issue of Zagel forcing Blagojevich to cut lawyers. His theatrical lead attorney, Sam Adam Jr., has indicated to colleagues he may even want to step aside, Sorosky said. Whether he'll be allowed to is up to the judge.

Adam's office said Wednesday he was not available for comment.

The 38-year-old delivered a thunderous, sometimes quirky closing for Blagojevich -- even reciting a joke about an old woman and a mule to help illustrate a point.

But after jurors announced their sole guilty verdict -- on a charge of lying to the FBI -- Adam seemed dejected. In a hallway afterward, the visibly exhausted attorney slumped against a wall, staring at the floor.

Sorosky insisted it wasn't fatigue that has made Adam consider withdrawing.

"It's just that I know that he honestly feels that Gov. Blagojevich needs a new lawyer or new approach for the second time around," Sorosky said.

Money also is a consideration.

Attorneys working on taxpayers' dime get a little more than $100 an hour. That may seem generous, but it's less than the more than $300 an hour a top defense attorney can make.

And the Blagojevich case is more all-consuming than most, said Turner, not just because of the amount of work but because of the stress and public scrutiny involved.

Even if defense lawyers ask Zagel to release them, he could refuse. He could argue new attorneys would take too long to prepare, pushing a trial date back more than a year.

But it's unlikely Zagel would force a reluctant lawyer to stay on, Turner said.

"Just think of the issues you create," he said. "If a defendant is convicted, he would say in appeal, 'My lawyer was distracted at trial and he didn't even want to be there.'"