CHICAGO — One trial has ended for ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, with a guilty verdict that cost him his job. Now another one looms, with much higher stakes: His freedom.
Blagojevich, booted from office Thursday 59-0 after a state Senate impeachment trial, faces federal corruption charges that include trying to auction off Barack Obama's old U.S. Senate seat. Federal prosecutors are expected to indict him by April.
Leading the charge to keep him out of prison are a father-and-son duo of defense attorneys who grabbed the limelight at R&B superstar R. Kelly's sex tape trial.
"These are two of the most flamboyant attorneys in town," says DePaul University law professor Leonard Cavise. He's predicting fireworks if the case goes to trial.
Sam Adam and his son, Samuel E. Adam, already have some questioning their legal strategy — including the decision to let Blagojevich to go on a whirlwind New York media tour before his impeachment trial ended, fielding questions about the criminal case from Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, Larry King and more.
Blagojevich also gave an impassioned closing argument to senators before they removed him from office, although he didn't testify under oath. His unwillingness to stay quiet cost him the help of his former lead attorney, Edward M. Genson, who announced he was withdrawing from the case before the media blitz.
Lawyers say Blagojevich already tipped his hand about a possible defense in his Senate plea. He said he had no intent to commit any crime.
"There will be an instruction — the jury will be told that for them to find him guilty he has to have intended to commit fraud," says defense attorney John M. Beal.
He also gave a peek at another defense strategy during his media interviews, saying that transcripts of secretly recorded conversations offered in the criminal complaint — including him calling the Senate seat a valuable thing not to be given away for free — were taken out of context.
"Blagojevich is likely to say, as he has been saying, his words were taken out of context and politics is a tough business that frequently requires tough talk and a lot of bluster to achieve your goals," says defense attorney Michael Petro.
Blagojevich confessed to MSNBC's Rachel Maddow that Genson had not wanted him to grant such interviews but rather hoped he would keep his mouth shut. Most Chicago lawyers agree with Genson that the interviews were a mistake.
"It's potentially disastrous and makes him look like a clown," Cavise said.
But the elder Adam said Thursday that he saw no problem.
"When he goes to trial he's going to have to answer questions, and the only drawback would be if he said something in the media that would go to impeach his credibility at the trial and as far as I know he didn't," he said.
No one doubts that if the two Sams take the case to trial they'll arrive with a full supply of fireworks to keep the jury entertained.
The elder Adam is a serious legal scholar with an offbeat sense of humor and a flair for the dramatic — some say the eccentric. He once dug his thick fingers into the crop of pure white hair sported by a client, a judge accused of corruption, right after imploring jurors to "send this good man back to his wife of 50 years and 23 grandchildren." They looked startled, but later acquitted him.
Those who know him best warn against taking Sam Sr. for a lightweight.
"Anybody who would write him off as a mere character would be underestimating his ability as a lawyer," says defense attorney Thomas M. Breen. "He has over the years tried some of the most difficult cases with the most unpopular defendants."
Samuel E. Adam is the son. His dramatic touch was on display at the Kelly trial.
He pounded his fist, yelled, whispered and pleaded with jurors to believe his client was not the man they saw on the sex tape with an underage girl.
"It ain't him," he whispered. "And if it ain't him, you can't convict."
When jurors came back with the magic words — not guilty — Kelly grabbed the hefty, 35-year-old Adam and crushed him in a mammoth bear hug of gratitude.
The senior Adam has been known for decades as part of a legal trinity that included the wily Genson and Eugene Pincham, a former judge who gave up his black robe to return to the tough, gritty world of criminal defense.
The E. in Samuel E. Adam is for both Pincham and Eugene V. Debs, the left-wing labor leader of a century ago who ran for president on the Socialist ticket.
"If there were a hall of fame for Chicago criminal defense lawyers, all three would be there," says Michael Ettinger, an attorney for the former governor's brother, Robert Blagojevich. Robert Blagojevich has been charged with no wrongdoing.
Rod Blagojevich signed up with Genson, former newspaper baron Conrad Black's lawyer, last fall after parting company with the blue-chip firm of Winston & Strawn.
But Blagojevich soon showed he was highly impressed with the two Sams.
Before long, Genson was grumbling that he was no longer in contact with the Sams. And on Jan. 23, he told reporters that he intended to withdraw from the case.
"I have practice law for 44 years," Genson said. "I never require a client to do what I say. I do require a client to listen to what I say."
The elder Adam said Genson might return to the case. Genson declined to discuss it on the record.
Adam Sr. and Genson have fought side by side in some of Chicago's biggest cases.
They represented Frank Caruso, the white teenager accused of beating a black youngster, Leonard Clark, so severely that doctors said he almost died.
The case prompted President Bill Clinton to devote his weekly radio address to the troubled state of racial relations. Caruso was acquitted of attempted murder but convicted of aggravated battery and sentenced to eight years. He served about two.
They also represented former U.S. Rep. Mel Reynolds, D-Ill., who was convicted and sent to prison for sexual misconduct with an underage campaign volunteer.