The trial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich took an unexpected twist when the judge threatened to jail defense lawyer Sam Adam, Jr. for contempt of court.
Outside the presence of the jury, Mr. Adam told Judge Zagel he intended to state in his closing argument that the jury may draw an inference about people who were named in the indictment, and who were frequently mentioned by other witnesses and by the prosecution, but were never called to testify against the Governor.
(For example, fundraiser extraordinaire, Tony Rezko, who previously pleaded guilty to corruption, did not testify. Alleged victim of a Blagojevich shakedown, turned White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, did not testify. Horse tranquilizer addict and master raiser of campaign donations, Stuart Levine, who previously pleaded guilty to corruption, did not testify. The list goes on; in fact, sources say the government’s sealed witness list contained 600-800 names; however, the government only called about 35 witnesses in total.)
But, Judge Zagel instantly refused to allow Mr. Adam such an argument and warned him:
“If you don’t follow that order you will be in contempt of court…maybe you ‘didn’t get the memo’ last week, but you cannot draw an inference on the fact that they [the prosecution] did not call a witness…it is not a fact, based on what an inference is drawn; therefore it is not admissible. It is not evidence. It doesn’t mean anything because it doesn’t have any materiality. It is not permissible under the Federal Rules of Evidence. It is not the law….maybe in some places, but not here…It does not do your client any good to have his laywer held in contempt…it may or may not be personally satisfying…”
Mr. Adam respectfully, yet passionately, responded to the court, ”I am willing to go to jail on this because I cannot effectively represent my client.”
As Mr. Adam contemplates the court’s admonishment and whether it is not “good” to be held in contempt of court, he shall not forget that over 47-years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was jailed for contempt; he shall not forget Dr. King’s open-letter on April 16, 1947, from the Birmingham County Jail.
This case is no longer about Rod Blagojevich; this is about fairness and equality. This is about justice.
“Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea,” wrote Dr. King.