Illinois Public Media News
Attorneys for impeached Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich have continued their barrage of pretrial motions with a new one asking a judge to lift a court-ordered seal on all evidence, including FBI wiretap recordings.
The seven-page motion filed early Thursday argues the order barring the public release of evidence impairs Blagojevich more than prosecutors and creates what it calls "a fundamentally unfair playing field."
The filing also accuses the government of releasing out-of-context tape excerpts before the first trial that "poisoned the jury pool."
Blagojevich's initial trial ended in August with the jury deadlocked on 23 of 24 charges. A retrial is set to start April 20.
Only a small percentage of the wiretap recordings were played at the first trial. The rest are barred from release by the seal order.
Rod Blagojevich's attorneys are asking that jurors in the former governor's upcoming retrial be allowed to remain anonymous.
In the first Blagojevich trial, Judge James Zagel kept the names of jurors secret until after the verdict. He said members of the public had already called his office to weigh in on the high profile case and he didn't want jurors subjected to that. Zagel plans to withhold the new juror's names again in the retrial scheduled to begin April 20th, but Blagojevich's attorneys say those jurors should have the choice to remain anonymous even after the verdict. They say jurors will almost certainly become quote, "media prey" after the trial.
Blagojevich's attorneys don't want deliberations to be affected by jurors who are worried about impending press and public pressure, and they say Blagojevich's right to a fair trial and an impartial jury require that jurors be allowed to remain anonymous if they so choose.
A Champaign County Board member has been arrested for DUI. Michael Richards is due back in court next month following a January 27 arrest. State's Attorney Julia Reitz's office said the 31-year-old Richards was spotted by a sheriff's deputy driving north in the southbound lanes of US 45 in Savoy around 3-30 that morning. He admitted to having four mixed drinks prior to driving and refused to take a blood alcohol test, which results in a one-year suspension of driving privileges.
Richards faces a misdemeanor DUI charge and was ticketed for improper lane usage.
The District 6 Democrat was appointed to the Champaign County Board in 2007.
The U.S. Department of Justice will not pursue a civil rights case in the 2009 police-shooting death of Champaign teenager Kiwane Carrington.
The city of Champaign released a letter it received Monday, saying the Justice Department's Civil Rights division had closed its investigation into the incident and "concluded that the evidence in the case does not establish a prosecutable violation of any federal criminal civil rights statute."
The 15-year-old Carrington was shot to death in October of 2009 when Police Chief R.T. Finney and Officer Daniel Norbits confronted and wrestled with Carrington and another teen behind a Vine Street house. Police had suspected that the two were trying to break into the home, but it was later discovered that Carrington was welcome in the house, which was unoccupied at the time. A state police investigation concluded that Norbits' gun discharged accidentally during the altercation. Finney had been working a regular patrol that day. Norbits was given a 30-day suspension for not properly controlling his weapon.
The incident added fuel to long-standing suspicion against police in the African-American community.
In a complaint to the Department of Justice shortly after the shooting, Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice was critical of the local investigation, claiming that evidence was mishandled and that Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz poorly analyzed the case. The group's Aaron Ammons said he has not heard back from the Department of Justice regarding that complaint, and added that he is not surprised by the outcome of the department's recent investigation into the shooting.
"I guess deep in our hearts and the recesses of our minds, we'd like to believe that there would be some justice at some level within our government," Ammons said. "When you don't see that, it is disappointing."
The case has been reviewed by various local, state, and federal agencies. The Department of Justice's recent investigation came as no surprise to Seon Williams, a friend of the Carrington family.
"The situation and outcome has been the same, so I don't think the community's surprised on the next phase of this thing." Williams said. "I think we're all just trying to heal and trying to move forward."
In a statement, Chief R.T. Finney said, "We are confident of the thoroughness of all investigations and satisfied that the outcomes were all the same. This was a very tragic incident for all involved and the closure of this investigation will help us all move forward."
The city settled a civil lawsuit with Carrington's family last year. A second civil suit filed by the family of the other juvenile is pending.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's office says acting state police director Jonathon Monken will move to the Emergency Management Agency.
Spokeswoman Mica Matsoff says the governor will announce the move shortly.
The 31-year-old Monken has been acting state police director for nearly two years, but the Senate has never confirmed the appointment.
He would have gotten the permanent job by default after Wednesday because the deadline for Senate action would expire. However, the Senate raised the possibility of a last-minute hearing to block Monken.
Senators say he doesn't have experience as a police officer to run the agency even though he was a military police officer who served in Iraq.
Illinois senators haven't quite given up hope of voting on Gov. Pat Quinn's nominee to head the state police.
An aide to Senate President John Cullerton initially said Thursday there was no way to hold a confirmation hearing before time ran out and nominee Jonathon Monken officially got the job.
But Rikeesha Phelon later said Senate leaders had begun considering a hearing next Wednesday, the last day possible.
Nominees are automatically confirmed if the Senate doesn't hold a vote within 60 session days. The deadline was also complicated by the fact that Monken was nominated during a legislative session that ended last month.
Monken is 31 and has no law enforcement experience, but he has served as acting director of state police for nearly two years.
A women's prison in Decatur allows a handful of its inmates to raise their newborns while serving out their sentences. It's the only program of its kind in the state, and as Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers reports, it appears to be advancing the cause of rehabilitation and growth.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
Attorneys for Rod Blagojevich filed a pretrial motion Tuesday seeking what they claimed was missing evidence in the impeached Illinois governor's corruption trial, including records of a phone call between a Blagojevich aide and then White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.
The motion claims the telephone conversation took place just a day before Blagojevich's December 2008 arrest on charges that include allegations he sought to sell or trade the appointment to President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat for personal gain. The motion says details of that conversation could bolster a defense contention that Emanuel, who has not been accused of any wrongdoing, was willing to help with a political deal in which Blagojevich would have named Illinois' attorney general to the seat.
But the call between Emanuel and then Blagojevich chief of staff John Harris is not among hundreds of transcripts of secret FBI wiretaps recorded before Blagojevich's arrest. The defense motion points only to circumstantial evidence that it even happened, including a reference in a White House transition-team report from after the arrest that said Emanuel had "about four" conversations with Harris. The defense was given records of only three conversations, according to the motion.
"The fourth and final phone call is the call that is mysteriously missing," it adds. "Piecing together multiple documents after the first trial, Blagojevich uncovered the fact that the December 8th phone call ... took place."
A message seeking comment left on a voice mail overnight at the U.S. attorney's office wasn't immediately returned.
Blagojevich faces 23 charges at his April retrial, after jurors at his first trial last year agreed only on one of 24 counts and convicted him of lying to the FBI. Both prosecutors and defense attorneys have been ordered to file all pretrial motions by next week.
The defense's latest filing comes just two weeks before Chicago's mayoral election. Emanuel has a considerable fundraising advantage and leads in polls in the race to replace retiring Mayor Richard Daley.
Emanuel has said little about the Blagojevich case publicly, often citing the ongoing legal proceedings for not commenting in detail. The White House report released in 2008 by the then president-elect's office concluded neither Emanuel not anyone else on Obama's staff had had any "inappropriate discussions" with Blagojevich or his aides.
It found that Emanuel had had "one or two telephone calls" with Blagojevich and "about four" with Harris, who testified for the government at Blagojevich's first trial. Tuesday's motion also goes out of its way to say the defense isn't accusing Emanuel of doing anything untoward.
"Blagojevich makes absolutely no assertion that Rahm Emanuel was ever involved in, or aware of, any wrongdoing, criminal or otherwise," it says.
Still, the motion's focus suggests the ousted governor's attorneys could make Emanuel a part of their defense strategy, which could cause him some political discomfort. He did not testify at the first trial, though both prosecutors and the defense have left open the possibility he could be called at the second trial.
A voice message left overnight for Emanuel campaign spokesman Ben Labolt was not immediately returned.
In their motion, defense attorneys contend details of final conversation they say took place between Emanuel and Harris would support Blagojevich's claim that he merely hoped to forge a deal in which he would name Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to the Senate seat in exchange for her father, powerful Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, pushing a legislative package favored by the governor.
Prosecutors have portrayed the supposed Madigan deal as a red herring designed to obscure multiple bids by Blagojevich to effectively sell the seat not for the benefit of his Illinois constituents, but for his own personal gain. About half of the pages in Tuesday's defense motion are blacked out, including names and excerpts from wiretap recording transcripts that federal Judge James Zagel has ruled aren't pertinent to the case and should remain under seal.
(Photo courtesy of feastoffun.com/flickr)
The Illinois attorney general is suing to stop a former Chicago police commander convicted of lying about the torture of suspects from getting his $3,000 a month pension.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office said Monday it has filed a lawsuit against Jon Burge and the Policemen's Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago seeking to end Mr. Burge's pension benefits.
Mr. Burge was sentenced last month to 41/2 years in prison for lying in a civil lawsuit when he said he'd never participated in or witnessed the physical abuse of suspects. A pension board vote on terminating Mr. Burge's pension failed last month.
Ms. Madigan's lawsuit claims that the pension board unlawfully allowed Mr. Burge to keep the benefits.
Mr. Burge's attorney Thomas Pleines said his office intends to "vigorously defend" Mr. Burge's right to keep his benefits.
"These [pension board] trustees are elected to their office, and they took a long, hard look at the facts in the case, and they rightfully concluded that events that occurred 10 years after Jon Burge was no longer a police officer were not related to his service, and therefore he was entitled to keep his pension," Mr. Pleines said.
Former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge will get to keep his public pension benefits, despite a federal conviction for lying about the torture of criminal suspects, a police pension board voted Thursday.
The 4-4 vote by the Policeman's Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago means that Burge, 63, will be able to collect rouhgly $3,000 in benefits each month for the rest of his life. Five votes were needed to terminate Burge's pension.
Thursday's vote comes less than a week after Federal Judge Joan Lefkow sentenced Burge to 4 1/2 years in prison for lying about the torture of scores of criminal suspects during the 1970s and 1980s. In 2006, a special prosecutor found Burge likely oversaw the beating, suffocation and electro-shocking of suspects in police custody, but he was never charged for the abuse because the statue of limitations had run out.
Burge's perjury conviction stems from false statements he made in 2003 connected to a civil trial. He was fired from the Chicago Police Department in 1993 for mistreating a suspect. Pension board trustee Michael Shields, who voted against cancelling Burge's benefits, said Thursday's vote had nothing to do with the torture allegations. He said Burge was no longer on the force when he perjured himself.
"I don't want Chicago police officers to, you know, live in fear that 15 years after their retirement - such as Mr. Burge's case - they will be stripped of their pension fund," Shields said. "Jon Burge was no longer serving the police department. He was no longer acting in any official capacity as a Chicago Police Officer."
Illinois pension law says employees should lose their pensions if they're convicted of a felony "relating to or arising out of or in connection with" their job.
Chicago City Treasurer Stephanie Neely, the board member who moved to ax Burge's pension, acknowledged that the perjury took place a decade after he'd left the police department. But she said there's no doubt his actions were connected to his job.
If the trustees had voted to terminate Burge's retirement benefits, he would have been in for a one-time $66,000 payout, and could have appealed the decision to a Cook County court. But Thursday's vote leaves no room for appeal, said a lawyer for the board.
"To me, there was enough gray in the law that I would like to see the appellate court's decision," Neely said.
(With additional reporting from the Associated Press)
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