Illinois Attorney General Asks State Supreme Court to Remove Governor Blagojevich

Submitted by SadInAmerica on Fri, 12/12/2008 - 7:20pm.

The attorney general of Illinois asked the state Supreme Court today to temporarily remove Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich (D) from office, arguing that he cannot effectively fulfill his duties because of federal corruption charges against him.

Blagojevich "is 'unable' and 'unfit' to serve effectively as governor," leaving the Illinois government "in a state of paralysis," Lisa Madigan said in a court filing. She urged the court to order his removal on disability grounds or, alternatively, to prohibit him from performing specific duties such as "acting on legislation" and appointing a replacement U.S. senator to serve out the term of President-elect  Barack Obama.

In a news conference in Chicago to explain the unprecedented move, Madigan, who is known as a rising star in the Illinois Democratic Party and a political foe of Blagojevich, said she took the action because impeachment proceedings against the governor would not move quickly enough. She said those proceedings could still go ahead to remove Blagojevich from office permanently.

Shortly after she spoke came word that Blagojevich's chief of staff, John Harris, had resigned his post. Harris was arrested by FBI agents Tuesday at the same time as Blagojevich, and both were charged with federal corruption counts in a 78-page criminal complaint and supporting FBI affidavit.

Madigan's filing asks the Supreme Court to name Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn (D) acting governor so that vital state business can be conducted, including short-term borrowing to pay bills.

Madigan said the motion was based on the federal criminal complaint issued Tuesday against Blagojevich by U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald, who documented what he called "a political corruption crime spree" by the 52-year-old Democratic governor. The complaint accused Blagojevich, among other offenses, of conspiring to shake down a children's hospital for a large campaign contribution, pressuring the Chicago Tribune to fire critical editorial writers in return for state aid to its parent company and seeking to sell Obama's Senate seat to the highest bidder.

"The pervasive nature and severity of these pending charges disable Mr. Blagojevich from making effective decisions on critical, time-sensitive issues, including filling the United States Senate seat, signing or vetoing legislation, [disbursing] state funds or awarding state contracts," Madigan's filing said. "And the charges have severely hampered the state's ability to continue to borrow money to fund essential state services, such as medical care, schools, day-care centers, nursing homes and mental health institutions."

Madigan said Blagojevich "is unable to distinguish between his financial interests and his official duties and between illegal acts and legal conduct, rendering him incapable of legitimately exercising his authority as governor."

As the attorney general addressed reporters on the 15th floor of Chicago's James R. Thompson Center, a copy of her filing was being served on Blagojevich at his office on the floor above them in of the same building, she said.

Madigan said she took the unusual step of petitioning the Supreme Court to intervene in the matter because Blagojevich has shown no sign of resigning, despite mounting pressure on him, and because impeachment proceedings in the state legislature in Springfield were likely to take time, leaving the state in limbo.

"In the meantime, the state government is paralyzed by a governor who is incapable of governing," she said.

Important state business thus has been brought to a standstill, Madigan said, citing the example of a needed payment to Medicaid providers to reduce a backlog of at least $1 billion in unpaid bills. She said the state has had to postpone a $1.4 billion short-term borrowing and that it now "may be difficult if not impossible" to move forward on it.

As part of the requirements to let the governor borrow the money, the attorney general would have to certify she was not aware of any proceeding that challenged the governor's ability to hold office. "I would not be able to sign that," Madigan said.

The state's top legal officer said she did not know how quickly the Supreme Court might be willing to consider her request, or whether the high court would even take the case or issue an order.

Madigan, 42, a former state senator, said a provision of state law allows her to seek the removal of Blagojevich through the Supreme Court, although the provision has not been previously invoked.

Madigan's filing asks the Supreme Court to declare Blagojevich disabled under an expansive definition of the term so that Quinn can take over as acting governor. In response to questions, she said that "the term 'disability' legally is very broad" and not limited to physical or mental disability.

The filing also asks the court for a temporary restraining order stripping Blagojevich of specific substantive powers and turning those powers over to Quinn pending the court's ruling on whether Blagojevich is fit to serve. Madigan described that request as an option for the court to relieve the state government's paralysis even more quickly than removing him from office.

"I recognize this is an extraordinary request, but these are extraordinary circumstances," Madigan told the news conference.

She said the filing follows the federal complaint in delineating activities that Blagojevich would be prevented from carrying out. It mentions the appointment of Obama's replacement, disbursements to Children's Memorial Hospital and the signing of legislation on the horse-racing industry, among other matters before the governor.

If the Supreme Court does not want to remove Blagojevich from office, it should "at least" put Quinn in a position to carry out those specific responsibilities, Madigan told reporters.

"We want to make sure this state has a governor who can act legitimately," she said. "We think it's very clear [Blagojevich] is incapable of serving."

Madigan also said she believes that Illinois legislators should change state law to allow a special election to fill Obama's former Senate seat. One potential problem now is that any bill passed by the state legislature must be signed by Blagojevich to become law.

Abner Mikva, a retired federal judge and long-time Obama supporter who has been advising Madigan, told the news conference that the filing was "the least invasive way of solving the immediate problem." He said her request "does not try to take over the legislative function; it invites the legislature to proceed as rapidly as they can."

Madigan, the daughter of powerful Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, was elected as the state's first female attorney general in 2002. She has been mentioned as a possible candidate to serve the remaining two years of Obama's term in the U.S. Senate. But she dismissed talk of that prospect today.

"At this point, we're purely focused on making the state government work," she said. "Political matters are not even on my radar screen this week."

Transcript: Illinois Attorney General Calls for Court to Oust Gov. Blagojevich

Court Briefing (pdf)

William Branigin - Kari Lydersen - December 12, 2008 - source WashingtonPost

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Submitted by SadInAmerica on Fri, 12/12/2008 - 7:20pm.