Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Common attorney could give Vrdolyak & Blagojevich too many similarities

Perhaps I have a bizarre sense of humor, but I find the thought hilarious that a political person of Serbian ethnic background would think it wise to follow the lead of a Croatian.

Yet the world of Chicago politics and our judicial systems could give us that very sight – as it is being reported that now-impeached Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is considering hiring a new attorney to represent him when he goes on trial for federal corruption charges some time in 2010 (or maybe later).

BLAGOJEVICH, ACCORDING TO the Associated Press, is considering hiring Terence Gillespie. He’s a prominent criminal law attorney, and one of his most recent clients was former Cook County Democratic chairman-turned-Republican Edward R. Vrdolyak.

I can’t help but think Blagojevich took a look at what happened to Vrdolyak last month when Gillespie was successful in arguing on behalf of “Fast Eddie.” What many political observers were convinced would happen (and which many long-time activists openly wished for) was that Vrdolyak literally would get three to five years in a federal prison.

The idea of a 71-year-old man being sent away and possibly dying in prison was their sick wish, and they were deprived of it. Gillespie convinced U.S. District Judge Milton Shadur that Vrdolyak deserved probation and community service as punishment – instead of prison time.

Now some people might argue that Vrdolyak will not have a pleasant retirement. But life at his bungalow-surrounded mini-mansion in the East Side neighborhood is a better way to end life than time in a minimum-security prison.

AND I CAN’T help but think that Blagojevich wants the same result.

Now Blagojevich is of Serbian ethnic background, while Vrdolyak has always taken pride in being possibly the most powerful Croatian politico ever in Chicago. People with a strong sense of the “old country” would argue that a Serb and a Croat could never have anything in common.

But the level of disgust with which some people regard the two men is definitely a common trait.

Vrdolyak is the man who, to a certain generation who can remember political life before Richard M., turned Chicago into “Beirut by the Lake.” He’s the man who led the opposition motivated by race against Mayor Harold Washington, creating the concept of Council Wars back in the mid-1980s.

HIS LATER CONVERSATION to the Republican Party and his willingness to be an advisor, of sorts, to former Cicero Mayor Betty Loren Maltese (currently serving her own prison term for what federal prosecutors contend were her alliances with organized crime) has created a mass of Chicagoans who regard Vrdolyak in the lowest regard.

In fact, one of the few people who could be held in even lower regard than Vrdolyak is Blagojevich.

His being hit with a criminal complaint while federal prosecutors seek a grand jury indictment (which is considered a stronger-level criminal charge) allowed Illinoisans of all types who long held Blagojevich in professional contempt to unleash their disgust.

Impeachment and removal from office isn’t enough for many people of this state. They want Blagojevich in prison, and would probably enjoy the thought of him being attacked by other inmates.

WHETHER IT’S THE pompous pompadour, the whacked-out use of poetry or his often-stubborn belief that the rest of state government existed to serve him (which explains his demeanor when dealing with supposed allies in the Democratic caucus of the Legislature), there are people who won’t rest until Blagojevich “goes down” for the count in court.

Could it be that deep in the recesses of his brain, Blagojevich knows (but won’t publicly admit) he has a very good chance of being found “guilty” of something when he goes on trial? Does he want an attorney who can get him a “Vrdolyak-like” deal of minimal punishment?

In fact, the very idea that Blagojevich may hire an attorney competent enough to rebut the charges that likely will confront him in a federal courtroom has some people disgusted. One reader of the State Journal-Register of Springfield, Ill., used the newspaper’s website to add a comment implying Blagojevich does not deserve legal representation.

So what happens now?

WE’LL HAVE TO wait and see if Gillespie takes on Blagojevich as a client.

For Gillespie is a law partner in Chicago with attorney Edward Genson. He’s the attorney who got an acquittal for rapper R. Kelly on charges that he was committing statutory rape against teenage girls and videotaping the act.

For awhile, he was even the attorney willing to represent Blagojevich. But Genson quit a couple of months ago when it became apparent that the same ego that allowed Blagojevich to so blithely tell Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, to “shove off” also would allow him to ignore his attorney’s legal advice.

Will Gillespie be influenced by his law partner to avoid the professional and legal headaches that come along with representing a former governor whom the federal prosecutors have made it clear they have little interest in cutting a deal with?

OR WILL GILLESPIE figure that professional and legal headaches are a part of the job in the “rough and tumble” world of criminal law?

No matter how much some people want to believe that Blagojevich deserves to be represented by someone who advertises his law practice on matchbook covers, there is a good chance that Blagojevich will have the kind of lawyer who is capable of punching back when the U.S. attorney’s office hits him with their best shot.

And there’s always the chance that Vrdolyak and Blagojevich – the Croat and the Serb – will wind up having in common a certain level of disgust from the public at the thought of how lightly they were punished by the courts for their alleged misdeeds.


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