Feds urge judge not to delay Blagojevich trial

Ex-governor asks for five extra months to prepare, but prosecution says the trial is too public to delay

Published March 15, 2010 8:56PM (EDT)

Prosecutors urged a federal judge Monday to turn down ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's request to delay his corruption trial, saying public interest in the case warrants a speedy resolution.

Blagojevich's attorneys asked U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel last week to postpone the trial, which is scheduled to begin June 3, by five months.

Prosecutors told Zagel that Blagojevich "has repeatedly and publicly challenged the legitimacy of the charges against him."

"As a result, the public has a strong interest in the expeditious resolution of the charges -- an interest that would not be served by an unnecessary delay of five months in the start of his trial," prosecutors said.

They also reminded Zagel that by June 3, Blagojevich will have had more than a year to prepare with a number of lawyers working on his behalf.

Blagojevich is charged with racketeering conspiracy and other offenses that include allegations he schemed to sell or trade President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat and illegally pressured people doing business with the state for campaign contributions. He has pleaded not guilty.

His attorneys have asked that the start of the trial be delayed until Nov. 3, saying they must review an overwhelming number of documents and there is no way they can have the job done by June.

Defense attorneys also noted the current U.S. Supreme Court review of the federal honest services fraud law, which makes it a crime for officials to withhold from taxpayers their intangible right to officials' honest services. Critics say the law is so vague, it is hard to know exactly what is illegal and what isn't.

The honest services fraud law was a major part of Blagojevich's original indictment, which has since been modified to include other charges.

Prosecutors argued that if the Supreme Court does hold the honest services law unconstitutional, some of the charges against Blagojevich will be wiped out and he could actually find himself in a better legal position. They also said Blagojevich's attorneys have plenty of time to sort through documents by June 3.

"Neither argument is persuasive or justifies moving the trial date, particularly in light of the strong public interest in resolving this case as expeditiously as possible," they said.

By Mike Robinson

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