The Illinois Supreme Court on Wednesday denied an effort to remove Gov. Rod Blagojevich from office
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – The Illinois Supreme Court on Wednesday denied an effort to remove Gov. Rod Blagojevich, rejecting what could have been the quickest way to force the Democrat from office.
The ruling came as the governor's attorney challenged the strength of the corruption case against Blagojevich before a panel of lawmakers that is considering whether to recommend impeachment.
Chicago attorney Ed Genson said the wiretaps that ensnared Blagojevich amounted to all talk and no action.
"It's just people jabbering," Genson told the House panel.
Genson attacked the impeachment proceedings on multiple fronts Wednesday, assailing the wiretaps, questioning the committee's impartiality and complaining that the panel had not given the governor enough time to mount a defense.
The committee's Democratic chairwoman, Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie of Chicago, rejected all of Genson's requests.
"We're not a court of law. We're not quite a grand jury," Currie said. "We're not bound by specific rules of evidence."
Blagojevich has been under siege since his arrest last week on charges that he tried to auction off Barack Obama's Senate seat. But he got some good news when the state's highest court refused to hear the attorney general's legal challenge to his fitness to serve.
The state Supreme Court rejected without comment a challenge filed by state Attorney General Lisa Madigan, herself a top candidate for governor in 2010. It was unclear whether the court turned down the case on its merits or on procedural grounds.
The attorney general had asked the court to remove Blagojevich, arguing that his legal and political troubles prevented him from performing his duties. Madigan said the governor's problems amount to a disability, so Blagojevich should have been stripped of his authority temporarily just as if he were physically incapacitated.
Madigan said she was disappointed by the ruling, saying Blagojevich's refusal to resign has put the state in an "unsustainable situation." She urged the impeachment panel to proceed with "deliberate speed."
The court's decision renewed calls from Republicans for a special election to choose Obama's successor in the Senate.
Blagojevich had already started the day feeling upbeat, telling reporters before a morning run that he had confidence in Genson and that he was eager to defend himself.
"I can't wait to begin to tell my side of the story and to address you guys and, most importantly, the people of Illinois. That's who I'm dying to talk to."
Federal wiretaps recorded Blagojevich talking about selling or trading Obama's Senate seat, but Genson told the House committee that the words do not amount to illegal actions.
Genson said it would be improper for the committee to base any decisions on the criminal complaint that summarizes the recordings of Blagojevich.
"This proceeding, which is basing its findings on the summary of wiretaps, is unfair and quite frankly illegal. The fact of the matter is, we in this case object, and object vociferously, to the use of this."
Lawmakers insisted they can consider the criminal complaint in deciding whether there's enough evidence to justify an impeachment vote.
"We are allowed to take in hearsay in this committee. A grand jury is allowed to hear hearsay," said the panel's top Republican, Rep. Jim Durkin of Western Springs. "We are not convicting. We are not the trial body. That's in the Senate."
Genson told the impeachment panel that some of its members have made statements suggesting they had already made up their minds. He also said neither the law nor the constitution spell out the standard for impeachment or what evidence should be considered.
Blagojevich, who was arrested last week, denies any wrongdoing and is defying an avalanche of demands for his resignation.
The Illinois House has appointed a 21-member committee to review the possibility of impeachment. It will look at the criminal charges, along with whether the governor has abused his power by defying lawmakers and spending money with authorization.
The committee, divided 12-9 between Democrats and Republicans, will recommend whether the full House should move to impeach Blagojevich. If that happened, the state Senate would then decide whether the governor is guilty.
Genson argued that three lawmakers — Republicans Bill Black of Danville and Jil Tracy of Mount Sterling, and Democrat Jack Franks of Woodstock — should be removed. He said their opening statements indicated they won't give the governor a fair hearing.
"A number of the people who are on this committee expressed views that made it perfectly clear they've already made up their mind in this case," Genson said. "They made comments which show Rod Blagojevich can't get a fair and impartial hearing of this committee."
Currie said that the committee members would not be removed. She also defended the members' opening statements for showing "a spirit of due process and fair play."
Genson also is asking the Illinois House to appoint and pay for Blagojevich's attorneys in the impeachment matter. That normally would be Madigan's job, he said, but she cannot do it because of her challenge to the state Supreme Court. Madigan's office said it would respond soon to Genson's request.