CHICAGO — Rod Blagojevich was famously convicted of an array of brazen corruption schemes as governor, but in a cramped administrative hearing room on Tuesday he was accused of something else.
Merriam-Webster defines turpitude as “depravity,” and it’s the somewhat nebulous legal standard — which essentially boils down to an egregious breach of trust — that state regulators say should cause Blagojevich to lose his law license permanently. And Exhibit A, they argue, is Blagojevich’s own crimes.
In a 90-minute hearing, attorneys for the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission took a three-member panel that will decide the status of Blagojevich’s license through his worst hits as governor, including his convictions for attempting to sell a U.S. Senate seat, shaking down the CEO of a children’s hospital for campaign cash and lying to the FBI.
“As governor, (Blagojevich) had the responsibility to do what was right for the people of Illinois,” ARDC attorney Christopher Heredia said. “Instead, he only did what was right by himself.”
The hearing, which has been nearly a decade in the making, came just one week after President Donald Trump commuted Blagojevich’s 14-year sentence, springing him from prison more than four years early.
Blagojevich was a conspicuous no-show at the hearing, which took place at the ARDC offices on East Randolph Street in a windowless eighth-floor conference room.
While such hearings are almost never attended by the media, Blagojevich’s case brought a pack of reporters who crammed into the 18 chairs in the small gallery, waiting to see what his defense might be.
Blagojevich’s longtime attorney, Sheldon Sorosky, said the ex-governor was in a “damned if he did, damned if he didn’t” situation in defending his law license, knowing that if he showed up to defend himself he would have been accused of lying all over again.
Sorosky also trotted out familiar lines in his argument, blaming the media for overemphasizing the FBI recordings that captured Blagojevich’s schemes, and saying the governor’s campaign fundraising and political horsetrading were well within legal bounds.
“The crimes that Mr. Blagojevich was convicted of are meager, meager forms of corruption,” Sorosky said. “Mr. Blagojevich is not an evil man or the boogeyman that, with all due respect, the folks in the media have portrayed him as. He is a good man.”
The three lawyers on the panel are expected rule on the fate of Blagojevich’s law license within the next month or two.
The ARDC’s formal complaint, filed last August, said the crimes for which Blagojevich was convicted “adversely reflect on his honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer.”
The complaint came eight years after the Illinois Supreme Court suspended Blagojevich’s law license indefinitely after his conviction at a second trial on counts of wire fraud, bribery and attempted extortion.
The delay in moving to disbar Blagojevich came because, by Illinois law, regulators have to wait until all appellate options are over before moving to permanently revoke a lawyer’s license.
In April 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the former governor’s appeal, marking the end of a decadelong legal road.
Since the only evidence against Blagojevich are the facts behind his criminal conviction — something he’s not allowed to relitigate before the disciplinary board — the hearing Tuesday was in large part a formality.
Blagojevich, 63, graduated from law school at Pepperdine University in 1983 and was admitted to the Illinois bar a year later, records show.
His only legal experience came as a young assistant Cook County state’s attorney, where he was assigned to a traffic courtroom years before entering politics.
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