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Disgraced Gov. Rod Blagojevich joked and jogged in his Chicago neighborhood Wednesday and vowed to tell his side of the story soon, while his attorney tore into impeachment-minded state lawmakers trying to force the governor out of a job.
The vigorous defense mounted by noted criminal defense attorney Ed Genson before a special House impeachment panel—belittling the hearing as a surreal "Alice in Wonderland" process—for the first time gave a glimpse into the intensity with which Blagojevich is fighting to remain governor after his arrest on corruption charges about a week ago.
Genson complained of a lack of standards to determine impeachment, decried his inability to subpoena witnesses such as U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald and asked that some panel members be removed because they had "already made up their minds in this case."
"Everybody's in a rush to judgment," Genson said later at a news conference. "If you know of another case coming out of the State of Illinois that had more pizazz to it . . . where there were so many people that wanted to chop somebody's head off, you tell me it. But I don't. This is a real witch hunt."
Using the impeachment process to remove Blagojevich appeared to become the only viable option by early afternoon. The Illinois Supreme Court rejected, without comment, Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan's move to have the governor declared unfit to hold office in the wake of allegations he tried to sell the U.S. Senate seat of President-elect Barack Obama.
Federal prosecutors also will try to freeze the money in Blagojevich's campaign account, according to a letter Genson said the political fund received this week. Authorities made the same move against Republican Gov. George Ryan's campaign fund, which became the first in U.S. history to be convicted of racketeering.
Genson also said Blagojevich would not make a Senate appointment after Senate Democrats warned they would not seat a pick by him. The governor's spokesman could not confirm Genson's assertion but said Blagojevich wants a special election. Republicans pushed for one, but Democratic lawmakers ditched special election proposals this week out of fear that the Blagojevich scandal could turn over the seat to a Republican.
Inside the Capitol hearing room where a 21-member panel met to weigh impeachment, Genson alternatively tried to schmooze members, noting he was friends of their lawyer parents, and displayed his feisty courtroom style, even urging one legislator who is a lawyer to return to law school.
As a rural grade school band and choir performed Christmas carols in the rotunda before a group of appreciative parents, Genson presented his defense in a hearing room only yards away, where he pleaded with members of the panel to "the best of your ability, give Rod Blagojevich a fair shake."
Genson also requested that taxpayers cover Blagojevich's legal fees, arguing that Madigan was duty-bound to defend the governor but conflicted by her attempt to have Blagojevich removed.
That request and just about all others were denied by Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, the Chicago Democrat who chairs the panel, with a reminder that the impeachment hearing is not bound by courtroom rules. The House committee said it was not authorized to make such a decision, and Madigan's office said she would respond Thursday to Genson's request that she step aside.
Later, Genson told reporters he was considering a potential challenge to the impeachment in federal court. The nation's last governor removed from office after an impeachment, Evan Mecham of Arizona in 1988, failed to get a state court to block impeachment proceedings before his criminal trial.
Genson contended that the criminal complaint against Blagojevich was "a dog and pony show" based on the most incendiary snippets from thousands of hours of comments recorded secretly by prosecutors.
"The fact of the matter is it isn't evidence to pick and choose and cherry-pick people who are just talking and decide what you want to decide," Genson said.
He also asked panel members not to base impeachment on guilty pleas obtained from others in the long-running federal investigation of the Blagojevich administration, saying it amounted to little more than the word of convicted felons.
But lawmakers were undaunted by Genson's attempts to defend Blagojevich.
Rep. Jack Franks (D-Woodstock), one of three members Genson unsuccessfully sought to have removed from the committee, challenged him to have Blagojevich appear.
"Maybe I will and maybe I won't," Genson said, adding that the hearings had set no standard for proof.
That prompted Franks, a longtime Blagojevich critic, to tell the defense attorney that if "you want to get to the facts, bring [the governor] here. Let's ask the questions. There's a lot of things we'd like to know."
The impeachment panel scheduled Thursday testimony from Auditor General William Holland on issues involving alleged abuses of state spending.
Also Wednesday, the attorney for a onetime close adviser and fundraiser for Blagojevich said his client would not cooperate in the federal investigation of the governor and his administration. Michael Monaco said his client, Christopher Kelly, plans to plead guilty Jan. 16 to concealing his use of corporate funds to cover gambling debts on his tax returns.
Outside the governor's home on Chicago's Northwest Side, Blagojevich promised a very public re-emergence soon.
"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," Blagojevich said before heading out for a morning jog. "There's a time and place for everything. That day will soon be here."
A Tribune photographer later spotted Blagojevich jogging, and the governor said he runs for exercise, to clear his head and because "it keeps love in your heart."
Tribune reporters Monique Garcia and Jeff Coen contributed to this report.