While impeached ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich awaits sentencing, the state watchdog that polices lawyers has asked the Illinois Supreme Court to suspend his law license in a move that could deal yet another indignity to the state’s defrocked chief executive.
Blagojevich’s legal team has until Oct. 11 to tell justices why the felon should not have his law license suspended after a jury this year convicted him of trying to sell the state’s U.S. Senate seat and extorting a hospital official for campaign contributions and another jury last year found him guilty of lying to the FBI.
“While the judgment of conviction has yet to be entered in respondent’s criminal case because the sentencing hearing has not been conducted, due to the egregious breadth of respondent’s conduct while governor of this state as concluded by two separate juries, an interim suspension is appropriate at this time,” wrote Jerome Larkin, administrator for the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission in a late-August filing with court.
Such a suspension, if imposed by the court, likely would be a precursor to an outright disbarment.
Blagojevich was to have been sentenced Oct. 6, but U.S. District Judge James Zagel postponed that indefinitely Monday apparently to avoid conflicting with the start of the corruption trial of former Blagojevich fundraiser William Cellini.
Blagojevich, who once told reporters he was a C student at Pepperdine University’s law school and “barely knew where that law library was,” has held a law license in Illinois since 1984. He has not been a practicing attorney since before joining Congress in 1997.
Before the ARDC petitioned the Supreme Court for a suspension of his license, Blagojevich’s legal team offered the ARDC to “withdraw” his license and since “we’re not practicing law,” Blagojevich lawyer Sheldon Sorosky told the Sun-Times.
But that request was rejected.
“ ‘Withdrawn’ is not a term in our art. You either disbar yourself, or the court does it for you,” said James Grogan, the ARDC’s deputy administrator and chief counsel.
After his late June conviction on 17 of 20 corruption charges, Grogan said, his agency gave Blagojevich paperwork to disbar himself, but the ex-governor never returned the paperwork.
“The only way we could quit is if we signed certain things that were, in effect, acknowledging we were guilty, and I said we can’t do that now because he honestly doesn’t believe that,” said Sorosky, who would not divulge specific legal arguments against the suspension he intends to present to the court in the next two weeks.
“We’re going to answer the complaint, and I’m sure the Supreme Court is going to rule. If I had to bet $5, I’d bet they’re going to rule against us,” Sorosky said.
Two previous governors — Otto Kerner Jr. and Dan Walker — wound up being disbarred after convictions. In both cases, they filed for voluntarily disbarment, which meant they could have reapplied for their law licenses after three years. Walker tried but later withdrew.
Several lawyers convicted in various prongs of the federal government’s Operation Board Games investigation have lost their ability to practice law, including ex-Blagojevich chief of staff John Harris, Blagojevich fundraiser and political fixer Stuart Levine, fundraiser Joseph Cari Jr., ex-Teachers Retirement System lawyer Steven Loren and former Levine business associate and 10th Ward Ald. Edward Vrdolyak.
Two other figures who pled guilty in the investigation have not had their law licenses sanctioned as a result of their wrongdoing.
Levine associate John Glennon is in the early stages of a disciplinary hearing before the ARDC, while lobbyist and ex-Blagojevich chief of staff Alonzo “Lon” Monk, who has a law license in California, is ineligible to practice law for failing to pay bar member fees and failing to meet continuing education requirements.