Illinois Public Media News
Rod Blagojevich asked a judge Monday to order prosecutors to hand over written summaries of any FBI interviews with President Barack Obama about the ousted Illinois governor's corruption case.
That raises the prospect that Blagojevich could try to make the president a prominent feature of his defense at his upcoming retrial.
Judges are traditionally averse to drawing sitting presidents into trials, however. And Judge James Zagel, who will preside over Blagojevich's retrial starting later this month, has repeatedly said Obama has no direct bearing on the allegations, which include that Blagojevich sought to sell or trade an appointment to Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat.
Obama has not been accused of any wrongdoing in the case by anyone, including the defense. But Blagojevich's attorneys have argued before that Obama could help demonstrate that their client never did anything criminal but merely engaged in legal, political wheeling and dealing.
"I haven't seen any argument Obama has anything to bring to the table in this trial," said David Morrison, a deputy director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform who has followed the case closely. "I think Blagojevich has been desperate to drag Obama into this for years now, and this motion is just the latest gambit."
Blagojevich, 54, faces 20 charges, including allegations that he tried to exchange an appointment to Obama's seat for a top job or campaign cash. Jurors at his first trial deadlocked on all but one count, convicting him on a lone count of lying to the FBI.
Monday's request came in a motion filed with the U.S. District Court in Chicago, saying written accounts of any Obama interviews could "go directly to the heart of testimony of several government witnesses," particularly union leader and Obama ally Tom Balanoff.
U.S. Attorney's office spokesman Randall Samborn declined any comment on the motion.
Zagel had rejected a similar motion before Blagojevich's first trial. Unlike the motion last year, Monday's filing does not ask for permission to call Obama as a witness - an idea Zagel also shot down.
The new motion zeros in on Balanoff, a key government witness. He testified at the first trial that Obama called him on the eve of the 2008 election, telling Balanoff he preferred that family friend Valerie Jarrett work in the White House but that she wanted to be senator.
"I thanked him and I said I was going to reach out to Gov. Blagojevich and speak on Valerie's behalf," Balanoff testified.
Defense attorneys claim Balanoff's testimony about the call appeared to contradict some other accounts and that notes of any FBI interviews with Obama could clarify the issue.
Balanoff's testimony is potentially damaging to Blagojevich. On the witness stand last year, Balanoff also told jurors he was startled when, in discussing Jarrett's interest in the seat with Blagojevich, the then-governor broached the possibility of becoming secretary of health and human services in the Obama administration.
He took Blagojevich's reference as an offer to trade one for the other.
"I understood him to be offering that, `Hey, if I got this appointment (as a Cabinet secretary), then I could see my way to appoint Valerie Jarrett,'" Balanoff said.
Under cross-examination by defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky, Balanoff conceded that Blagojevich never said explicitly he wanted to trade the appointment to the seat for a top job.
Zagel has repeatedly denied defense moves that could put a spotlight on Obama. In a sidebar last year, for example, Sorosky told Zagel he wanted to ask Balanoff if the FBI focused its questions on Obama rather than Blagojevich when agents interviewed Balanoff.
"I think we have a right to bring that out," Sorosky told the judge.
"No, you don't," Zagel shot back.
That sidebar conversation last year was out of earshot of the jury, spectators and journalists in court, but official trial transcripts released later included it.
Monday's motion leaves open the option of the defense again asking for permission to subpoena Obama. Some legal observers say judges are reluctant to put presidents on the stand, in part, because the spectacle could throw proceedings into disarray.
"It would be a circus," said Gal Pissetzky, a Chicago-based attorney who frequently represents clients in federal court. "The whole focus of the trial would switch."
(AP Photo/James A. Finley, File)
Danville Police are searching for a 15-year old male they suspect in the shooting of an 18 year old at the Fair Oaks public housing complex Sunday.
Police officials say officers responded to shots fired in the 900 block of Wakeley shortly before 5 PM Sunday. By the time they arrived, the shooting victim had been taken to Provena United Samaritans Medical Center --- he was later transferred to another hospital in Champaign-Urbana.
Public Safety Director Larry Thomason says both the shooter and his victim knew each other, and apparently had an ongoing argument. The shooting came three days after another Danville teen-ager was shot on Washington Street. Police arrested an 18 year old man in connection with that case.
Anyone with information the shooting is asked to contact Danville Police, or call Vermilion County Crime Stoppers anonymously at 217-446-TIPS.
The leaders of a Champaign group committed to improving police and community relations say they need more participation, and input, from all corners of the population.
About 50 people Monday night attended the first community forum hosted by the Champaign Community and Police Partnership, or C-CAP. The group's goal is finding solutions to policing issues raised by the African-American community. C-CAP member Patricia Avery heads the Champaign-Urbana area project, which works with juvenile delinquency prevention. She says Champaign Police are doing what they can to divert youth from the juvenile justice system.
"We have to work on providing more alternatives for the officers so when they are picking up (youths), they can't just turn them loose on the street," Avery said. "If they come into contact, they have to have somewhere for them to go. So our job as a community is to help them find solutions, find alternatives, for those kids that they do come in contact with."
One such option suggested by Avery is community conferencing - allowing police to place troubled youths before a panel made up of victims, offenders, and supporters to resolve the case among themselves.
Durl Kruse with C-U Citizens for Peace and Justice brought up the 2009 Champaign police fatal shooting of 15-year old Kiwane Carrington. He also cited 2010 statistics in Champaign County, showing a disproportionate number of black youths involved in felony and misdemeanor convictions.
Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney says the numbers are debatable, but says they were brought up in an attempt to discredit initiatives like the Champaign Youth Police Academy, and other ideas started by C-CAP.
"And to ignore what C-CAP has been doing for over a decade, by just throwing out some statistics from the State's Attorney's office compiled last year, is just not correct," Finney said. "C-CAP understands exactly what's going on in the neighborhoods with our kids. And we have to work on that."
Kruse says C-CAP's partnership will only work when it's allowing everyone, including the police department's worst critics, to be part of the discussion.
Champaign City Council member Will Kyles, who's also on the C-CAP committee, says future forums will need a change of behavior between different cultures. C-CAP will hold quarterly forums throughout the year. The next has a focus on youth. It's scheduled for June 27th at the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
Students at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville may not realize there's a big-name fugitive on campus.
Aldemaro Romero is the school's dean of arts and sciences, son of a famous Venezuelan musician, and a wanted man in his homeland.
The Venezuelan government has accused him of "treason to the motherland." That happened almost 20 years ago when he was working as a scientist and denounced Venezuelan fishermen for illegally killing dolphins for shark bait.
Romero fled to the United States and says it would be "suicidal" to go back.
He's been a dean at SIU in Edwardsville since 2009.
Romero recently donated 50,000 resource materials to the university archives. These include research notes, audiotapes of whale sounds and FBI reports on his run-in with Venezuelan authorities.
(Photo courtesy of Southern Illinois University)
After criticism over his last choice to head the Illinois State Police, Governor Pat Quinn has selected a law enforcement veteran to run the agency.
Quinn has tabbed Hiram Grau for the position. Grau spent 27 years with the Chicago Police Department. His resume includes his rise from beat cop to deputy Superintendent for the Bureau of Investigative Services for the Cook County State's Attorney. Grau's name had surfaced as a temporary fill in for Chicago's Police Superintendent Jody Weis when he stepped down this month.
Grau's appointment for the state job must still be confirmed by the Illinois Senate. Quinn's previous choice to be State Police Director never got a hearing. Jonathon Monken's lack of police experience sunk his nomination and it was later pulled. Monken has since been confirmed as head of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.
Quinn also announced the appointment of Joe Costigan to be Labor Department Director. He currently holds a position with the Service Employees International union.
A University of Illinois alert Thursday morning indicating that there was a shooter on campus was sent out in error, according to University officials.
The alert sent out at about 10:40 AM told the university community to "Escape area if safe to do so or shield/secure your location." Within about 15 minutes, Illini-Alert sent out a follow-up email saying that message was sent out in error. The U of I says a worker updating an emergency-message template inadvertently sent the message rather than saving it.
In a statement, the University's Chief of Police Barbara O'Connor said: "PLEASE DISREGARD THE ILLINI-ALERT MESSAGE SENT REGARDING THE ACTIVE SHOOTER ON CAMPUS! The Illini-Alert message was sent accidentally. We sincerely apologize for this accident."
U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler says employees at the campus' information technology service were working on ways to upgrade the alert system in light of Wednesday's fire in Campustown.
"Workers were simply updating some of the emergency templates that we have on hand for such incidents," she said. "And in the process of typing, someone accidentally hit 'send' instead of 'save."
Kaler said she realizes the original message was a frightening thing, but she said she would rather receive an alert of something not happening, than for an incident to go unreported.
MESSAGE ABOUT THE MISTAKEN ALERT
To the campus community:
This morning at 10:40, an Illini-Alert message was sent to 87,000 email addresses and cellphones indicating there was an active shooter or threat of an active shooter on the Urbana campus. The message was sent accidentally while pre-scripted templates used in the Illini-Alert system were being updated. The updates were being made in response to user feedback in order to enhance information provided in the alerts.
The alert sent today was caused by a person making a mistake. Rather than pushing the SAVE button to update the pre-scripted message, the person pushed the SUBMIT button. We are working with the provider of the Illini-Alert service to implement additional security features in the program to prevent this type of error.
The alert system is designed to send all messages as quickly as possible. The messages generally leave the sending server within two minutes. This design is essential for emergency communications. However, this prevented the cancellation of the erroneous alert once it was sent.
Additionally, once we send an emergency message, we are dependent on the cellular telephone providers to deliver the text message to the owner of the cellphone. This is a recognized issue with all text-messaging systems. This is one reason we use multiple communication mechanisms, including email and our Emergency Web alert system, which is automatically activated when we send an Illini-Alert message. We cannot rely solely on text messages to inform our community of an emergency.
The Chief of Police has charged the campus emergency planning office with reviewing and documenting todays incident. We are reviewing comments we are receiving as a result of the incident and will implement all reasonable and appropriate ideas or suggestions.
We recognize the campus community relies on us to provide accurate and timely emergency information. We are working diligently to improve our processes so that this type of incident does not happen again. Finally, we apologize for the confusion and emotional distress caused by the initial alert.
Barbara R. O'Connor, J.D. Executive Director of Public Safety Chief of Police University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign http://www.publicsafety.illinois.edu
Mike Corn Chief Privacy and Security Officer Office of the Chief Information Officer This mailing approved by:The Office of the Chief of Police
Republican Sen. Mark Kirk has three words for U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald: Stay in Chicago. Fitzgerald's name has surfaced among potential nominees to replace outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller, whose nonrenewable term ends in September.
Kirk said Monday he doesn't wish Fitzgerald any ill will in his career but "gosh, we need him here.'' Kirk said he would miss Fitzgerald "greatly'' if he was promoted to the FBI. Under Fitzgerald, the office has prosecuted two former Illinois governors, including the upcoming retrial of ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich on corruption charges.
But Fitzgerald is a potential nominee who could have trouble with congressional confirmation. Some Republicans think he overreached in his prosecution of I. Lewis "Scooter'' Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, in the Valerie Plame affair.
A new report finds conditions at a south suburban cemetery are worse than expected.
Archaeologists examined Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip. That's where Cook County Sheriff's officials in 2009 uncovered an alleged scheme in which workers dug up graves and resold the plots.
In a letter to the sheriff's office, archaeologists report bodies were buried in a Burr Oak corner thought to be unused. Officials had thought the corner could be used for new burials, but Sheriff Tom Dart said Monday the archaeologists found bones and pieces of burnt coffins in an area of the graveyard thought to be available for new graves.
Dart said he thinks up to 600 bodies could be improperly buried in that section - double what he had estimated.
"That area, as we had said, frankly, a year and a half ago, needs to be treated as a memorial," Dart told reporters. "That's exactly what needs to be done here. No one in good conscious can go out there and attempt to bury people there."
Dart said he doesn't know why some of the coffin pieces were burnt.
He said Burr Oak is at capacity.
"It's our hope that this report, once and for all, makes clear that if you dig at any level in these areas, you're going to find human bones, pieces of coffins and God knows what else," Dart said in a written statement.
The cemetery is going through bankruptcy and trying to find a new owner. A lawyer for the company overseeing Burr Oak said Dart's claims were inaccurate, but he wouldn't comment further.
Meanwhile, four Burr Oak workers face charges of criminal wrongdoing. All four remain free on bond while awaiting trial.
Despite a tongue-lashing from a federal judge in Chicago on Monday, lawyers for Rod Blagojevich say they'll forge ahead with a request to cancel the ex-Illinois governor's retrial and sentence him immediately on the sole conviction against him.
The motion to sentence Blagojevich on his sole perjury conviction and toss out the other 20 counts against him was a long-shot. Federal Judge James Zagel refused to dignify it with a ruling Monday, saying Blagojevich's defense lawyers didn't file their paperwork properly.
When lead Blagojevich attorney Sheldon Sorosky pressed Zagel to "indulge" him and issue a ruling anyway, the judge suggested it was more a publicity stunt than a legal request, and adding that if he ignored it, the request would "vanish into thin air."
But Sorosky, undeterred, pressed further, at which point the Judge reorted by lecturing him on the role of the three branches of government, saying that it was the executive branch Department of Justice that enjoys the power to drop criminal charges - not a judicial branch federal judge.
"To borrow something from legislative procedure," Zagel said, "this particular motion is going to die for want of a second. So we're done with it."
But afterward, Sorosky still seemed optimistic.
"Oh, one never knows," Sorosky said when asked about Zagel's comments. "Look at the March Madness tournaments - the No. 1 team lost! Pittsburgh!"
The five-page filing says Blagojevich isn't conceding any guilt, including on the conviction of lying to the FBI. That's the only count jurors agreed on at his 2010 trial. Blagojevich's lawyers argue that a second trial would be an "imprudent" use of taxpayer dollars. The government's supposed to foot the legal bills for the broke ex-governor.
Blagojevich faces a maximum five-year prison term for the lying conviction. Several of the 20 charges he'd be retried on carry a 20-year sentence.
Blagojevich's retrial is due to start in a month.
(Photo by Sam Hudzik/IPR)
A Northwestern University journalism professor whose students are credited with helping to free more than 10 innocent men from prison has been pulled from the class that made him famous.
David Protess says he was notified by email Monday that he wouldn't be teaching the investigative journalism course for the upcoming quarter.
Protess will continue as director of the Medill Innocence Project, but he says he doesn't know whether the project will continue to be affiliated with the class.
Investigative journalism students usually conduct the project's investigations.
Cook County prosecutors have subpoenaed the notes and grades of Protess' students in connection with their investigation into an alleged wrongful conviction. And the university has been investigating Protess and the Innocence Project over allegations of ethics violations.
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