Although they figure to face a more focused prosecution and with diminished resources at their disposal, Rod Blagojevich's attorney Sam Adam says reports that he and his son will be leaving the former governor's defense team are greatly exaggerated.
"Nobody has withdrawn. Nobody has gotten out of the case," Adam said after a court hearing Thursday that set a retrial for early next year in Blagojevich's corruption case while dropping charges against his brother, Robert.
Judge James Zagel set a limit of two lawyers to work on Blagojevich's defense if he pleads indigence and the public foots the bill. "We're going to meet with the governor and we're going to decide what's best for him," Adam said. "That's the only decision that's important. What is best for the client?"
Yet, various dynamics at play make it unlikely the Adams would be the two lawyers at the former Illinois governor's defense table when he goes back on trial immediately after New Year's.
"They got a great result, they got paid, they got famous. What else is there to be gained?" said DePaul University law professor Leonard Cavise, predicting the Adams will leave the case. The former governor was convicted of one count of lying to the FBI, which could bring a five-year prison sentence, but the jury deadlocked on 23 other corruption-related counts. Robert Blagojevich had faced four counts, and the jury left all of them undecided.
The father-son legal team "got about the best result they could short of a full acquittal, which simply wasn't going to happen," said Barrington Hills attorney and legal commentator Andrew Stoltmann, also betting against an Adams reappearance. "Both of the Adams can claim a major victory by getting a mistrial on all but one count.
"At this point, the phone is ringing off the hook at the Adams law firm with potential clients who are willing and able to pay the full hourly rate," Stoltmann said.
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.
Stoltmann said the conviction rate in federal retrials is about 95 percent, and it won't get any easier for Blagojevich. The prosecution will be focused entirely on him with his brother, Robert, out of the picture. And Zagel made it clear he will stick to the two-attorney maximum for the defense under the Criminal Justice Act if there is an "appropriate determination of indigency."
The ex-governor's defense was paid with $2.7 million out of his former campaign fund in this summer's trial, and many credited the theatrical rhetoric of Sam Adam Jr. in his opening and closing statements for prying one juror away from the others and forcing a mistrial. Yet that fund was exhausted, and Blagojevich's attorneys claim he's now "broke."
Blagojevich defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky said it was a David-and-Goliath story, only, "instead of a slingshot, our David had his band of lawyers." Zagel countered, "I actually thought it was the defendant who looked like Goliath and not the prosecution," with the several attorneys that typically sat at Blagojevich's table. "I would think two is enough," he added, pointing to how most of the legal groundwork was done on the original trial. "This is not a new case. This is the same case."
"With all due respect, I think the judge is wrong on that," Adam said afterward. "We're down one defendant and one less charge, and we're down about eight lawyers." He said about 20 people worked on preparing the defense, 15 of them lawyers. Even so, he repeated that he and his son would stay on the case if that were Blagojevich's desire. "I am prepared to do anything that the client wants to do, including working for free if that's what he wants," Adam said. "If you're thinking of what would make it better for my son and me," he added, "it's not important to us. I want to do what is best for the client."
Adam said his son is on "a well-deserved vacation" through Labor Day, and the entire defense team will meet with Blagojevich to determine the best course of action before the next court date, set for Sept. 9. Zagel asked the defense to prepare financial records on Blagojevich's current financial situation under oath, and not to be shared with prosecutors. He also set an Oct. 1 deadline for any attorney to remove himself from the case.
Zagel said he would permit lawyers to work pro bono on Blagojevich's defense, but that he would have to "consider the source" if someone else stepped forward to pay Blagojevich's attorney fees, as suggested by Sorosky. Yet Sorosky later said that was only mentioned as a hypothetical and that no one had made such an offer or stepped forward to offer pro bono legal services. "If you know of any, please tells us," he asked reporters.