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Disbarment likely in future for Blagojevich

Updated: June 29, 2011 9:49AM

SPRINGFIELD — Rod Blagojevich won’t likely ever set foot in a courtroom again as a practicing attorney thanks to the sweeping corruption convictions a federal jury handed down.

The top lawyer for the Illinois Supreme Court’s Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission, the legal panel that polices lawyer misconduct, said it is a virtual certainty Blagojevich will be disbarred as a result of his convictions.

“I don’t want to be presumptuous enough to speak for the court; but given history, the court would typically impose a substantial penalty, and usually disbarment, for crimes of this nature,” said James Grogan, the ARDC’s deputy administrator and chief counsel.

Disbarment — being stripped of the license to practice law in Illinois — is an option for the state high court whenever a lawyer has been convicted of crimes that involve “moral turpitude,” he said.

“Obviously, the type of crimes he’s been convicted of involve, no doubt, moral turpitude,” Grogan said.

Typically, the court won’t move on a lawyer’s law license until he or she has been sentenced for their crimes and then it happens “within days,” he said.

However, Blagojevich’s former chief of staff, John Harris, also a lawyer, had his law license suspended on an interim basis in April 2010 despite not being sentenced. The court meted out that sanction against Harris after he entered into a plea deal with federal prosecutors in which he admitted wrongdoing, Grogan said.

Blagojevich was admitted to the Illinois bar on May 10, 1984, after graduating in 1983 from law school at Pepperdine University, where he once boasted about getting a “C” in constitutional law. As governor and during the aftermath of his 2009 impeachment, Blagojevich kept his law license voluntarily inactive.

Two previous governors — Otto Kerner and Dan Walker — wound up being disbarred after convictions. In both cases, they filed for voluntarily disbarment, which meant they could have reapplied for their law licenses after three years. Walker tried but later withdrew.

If a lawyer opts against voluntary disbarment and the state Supreme Court disbars him or her, reinstatement can’t be sought for at least five years.

One other piece of legal trivia: The success rate for sanctioned lawyers seeking reinstatement is dismally low in Illinois.

Since 1973, only 72 lawyers have been reinstated by the court out of 1,062 who were disbarred during that period. Between 1991 and 2007, just 20 won back their law licenses.

“It’s rare indeed they get back in nowadays,” Grogan said.

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