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Blagojevich gets immunity in horseracing civil case

Updated: March 2, 2011 5:43PM

Rod Blagojevich may be facing retrial in April for criminal charges — but he’s still entitled to court immunity in another case, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday.

The appeals court ruled that Blagojevich can have immunity from a civil lawsuit filed by the casinos challenging a horseracing bill. Blagojevich was charged criminally with plotting to shake down a horseracing executive for a campaign contribution. He later signed the bill into law. He didn’t get the contribution.

“You’re not allowed to just bring governors into court because you make allegations into wrongdoing,” said Blagojevich civil lawyer, Jay Edelson. “I think the decision really has wide-ranging implications.”

“These huge casinos are saying that Rod ought to pay them money, under a theory that we thought was frivolous. The former governor individually is out of this lawsuit.”

A lawyer representing the casinos could not be immediately reached.

Reversing the lower court, the appeals panel left in place a temporary restraining order that bars the racetracks from accessing a $100 million-plus pool of casino profits.

That order will enable the casino industry to pursue a claim that the changes to state law setting up the diversion of casino profits to the racing industry were a result of a racketeering conspiracy between the racetracks and Blagojevich.

The casinos argued that state racing laws were changed as part of a deal between Blagojevich and Johnston to set up the diversion in exchange for campaign contributions to Blagojevich.

“The object of the conspiracy was to put money in Blagojevich’s pocket (or in his campaign committee’s coffers) in exchange for the enrichment of the racetracks at the casinos’ expense via the enactment and signing of the Racing Acts,” Justice Sykes wrote in the court’s majority opinion. “The casinos’ injury flowed directly from the conspiracy, or so a

reasonable jury could conclude.”

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