Blagojevich's lawyer wants to tap campaign fund to pay former gov.'s legal fees

Saturday, May 2, 2009

CHICAGO -- Ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich's lawyer made a fresh plea Friday for permission to tap campaign money to pay legal bills, saying defending the corruption charges against the former governor requires even more courtroom muscle than a death penalty case.

"This is just not a case in which one or two lawyers can effectively represent the defendant," Sheldon Sorosky told Judge James B. Zagel, saying a death penalty case usually doesn't entail the large volume of documentary and wiretap evidence in the sweeping racketeering and fraud indictment facing Blagojevich.

Sorosky and federal prosecutors met with Zagel, as did attorney Michael D. Ettinger, who represents the impeached former governor's brother, Robert.

Blagojevich did not attend the hearing.

Charges against the impeached former governor include allegedly scheming to sell or trade President Obama's former U.S. Senate seat and using the power of the governor's office to illegally pressure businesses for campaign contributions.

Sorosky has been trying to get Zagel to let him tap the $2.3 million Friends of Rod Blagojevich campaign fund to assemble a legal team. While he says a sizable team of lawyers is needed, Sorosky is Blagojevich's only attorney of record thus far.

Sorosky in the past has raised the possibility that other lawyers won't sign on unless they are assured of getting paid. Permission to tap the campaign fund would provide at least some of that assurance.

Prosecutors say there are potential legal barriers to using campaign money to pay legal fees. But they suggest a deal under which Blagojevich lawyers could bill the fund at the rate of $110 an hour -- the maximum appointed lawyers can charge the government for representing defendants who are broke.

Zagel gave Sorosky another option: Instead of taking the deal proposed by the government, he is willing to hold a hearing at which Sorosky could try to convince him that there are no legal barriers to tapping the campaign fund.

Sorosky told reporters he would have to confer with Blagojevich before deciding whether to take the government proposal or go for the hearing.

"Rod Blagojevich is not a wealthy man," he said. "The only money he has ever earned comes from his position as a congressman and as governor."

He said Blagojevich owns a condominium in Washington and his house on Chicago's North Side. "Other than that, he doesn't have any significant assets," he said.

But Sorosky said he was confident "we'll get team together -- we'll get an effective team of excellent lawyers."

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