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Rod Blagojevich broke, so taxpayers would pay for defense in retrial

The defense team for Rod Blagojevich is trying to rouse public anger at the prospect of taxpayer money being used in a retrial. But the cost probably wouldn’t be considerable for the state.

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Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich stands on the porch of his home on the north side of Chicago after being convicted on one of 23 counts in his federal corruption trial on Tuesday Aug. 17.

Eric Y. Exit/AP

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Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is broke, which means the state’s taxpayers may be tapped to pay for a second trial against him.

The federal trial that ended this week with a single conviction against Mr. Blagojevich cost him $2.6 million, which he paid in full last Friday with a final payment of $75,693.94, according to the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The money, which also paid for the legal fees of his brother Robert Blagojevich, came from Rod Blagojevich’s former campaign coffers.

In April 2009, five months after his arrest, that campaign money was transferred to the courts, according to a ruling by Judge James Zagel that allowed it to be used to pay for his defense.

But with that money and other funds depleted, changes are probable for Blagojevich in a second trial, which prosecutors indicated they would mount after jurors in the first trial deadlocked on 23 counts. It is likely, legal experts say, that his lawyers, Sam Adam Sr. and Sam Adam Jr., will withdraw from the case to make themselves available to other clients – those who can pay what many say is three times the $100-an-hour public-defender rate that Blagojevich paid them.

“The Adams’ phone is ringing off the hook with other defendants who can pay them top dollar, and they certainly want to do that.... It does come down to money,” says Chicago securities attorney Andrew Stoltmann. It is likely, Mr. Stoltmann adds, that Blagojevich’s legal team is “emotionally drained” from the case, which would make going through a second trial potentially difficult.

If his legal team does quit, Blagojevich has the opportunity to request access to funds in the Criminal Justice Act’s Federal Defender Program. The program provides court-appointed attorneys who would be paid the same rate as the Adams charged.

This week, Blagojevich’s defense team has tried to rouse public anger at the prospect of taxpayer money being used to fund both the defense and prosecution in a second trial – in a state that’s groaning under a $13 billion budget deficit.

“Why are we spending $20 million to $30 million on a retrial when you couldn’t prove it the first time?” said the younger Mr. Adam Tuesday.

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That reasoning is already being echoed in discussions on Chicago radio talk shows and local blogs. But Ralph Martire, executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, a watchdog group in Chicago, says the total cost of a second trial “is not even a rounding error in the state budget.” He adds, “I just don’t see it as a legitimate counterargument.”

Pursuing more convictions may save taxpayers money in the long run if it persuades Illinois politicians to think twice before committing corrupt acts, Mr. Martire says. If Blagojevich does jail time, he will be the second consecutive Illinois governor to do so.

“I don’t think it stops corruption overnight, but I don’t think you can ever stop corruption if you stop convicting [corrupt politicians],” Martire says.

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