By MICHAEL TARM (AP) – A defense team of more than a dozen attorneys and legal aides, who huddled around former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich talking strategy or even comforting their client during his first corruption trial, won’t be there for his second.
The official number of attorneys for the retrial is – two.
The fact that a Blagojevich legal fund is now empty led U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel on Friday to allow a father-and-son team who had served as lead attorneys to withdraw. A broke Blagojevich had to cut his defense team now that taxpayers must foot his legal bills, Zagel ruled earlier.
The impeached governor had hoped to retain more than two publicly funded lawyers, and his new lead attorneys complained to reporters on Friday that the defense was now at a disadvantage compared to what they described as the unlimited resources of prosecutors.
“What we’re up against is truly David and Goliath,” said Aaron Goldstein. “They are the federal government of the United States of America and we are two attorneys.”
Blagojevich’s attorneys have cited different numbers of lawyers that were at his disposal during the first trial – ranging from around half a dozen to 14.
Still, a reliance on two main lawyers will make it harder to prepare for a retrial that could start in three months, said Sheldon Sorosky, the other designated trial attorney. “It is a tremendous burden because two lawyers now have to do the work of what five did previously,” he said.
At his retrial, Blagojevich faces 23 charges, including that he sought to sell or trade President Barack Obama’s old U.S. Senate seat for a top job or campaign cash. Jurors at his first trial agreed only on one of 24 counts, convicting him of lying to the FBI.
Some observers questioned the notion of undue hardship on the Blagojevich lawyers.
Unlike in the months before the first trial, hundreds of court documents, wiretap transcripts and other potential evidence has already been vetted, said Michael Helfand, a Chicago attorney not linked to the case.
Moreover, thanks to sitting through the first 2 1/2 month trial, Goldstein and Sorosky also now know – down to nitty-gritty detail – how prosecutors will likely present their case. “It’s not like the government wasn’t showing their cards until a second trail,” he said. “So overall, this will be an easier case to try.”
It’s not only the size of the defense that will give the retrial a different feel. Outgoing lead attorney Sam Adam Jr. brought an almost circus-like air to the proceedings at times. He presented both opening and closing arguments, pacing around the courtroom, yelling, joking, whispering and slicing his hand through the air.
Neither Goldstein nor Sorosky are known for similar flair in court. “With Sorosky, it’ll be more technical than theatrical,” said Gal Pissetzky, a Chicago attorney with no link to the case. “He will focus more on the issues rather than emotions.” Sorosky is a longtime friend of Blagojevich, appearing with him in court on the December 2009 day that agents arrested the then-governor and led him away in handcuffs.
The younger, less-well-known Goldstein has the reputation of a tough cross-examiner. He took the lead in questioning many key prosecution witnesses at the last trial.
Despite their concerns about being outgunned, Goldstein and Sorosky will hardly try the case on their own. Their team also includes Lauren Kaeseberg, who is an attorney but, in name, will be Blagojevich’s paralegal.
In a court filing, Adam Jr. and his father, Sam Adam Sr., said they would continue to offer advice to Blagojevich’s legal team and office space.
Zagel said Friday that the duo would, technically, remain part of Blagojevich’s defense team on the chance they would have to be called in at some point. But in practical terms, he explained, they are no longer on the case.