Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Attend Your Trial

What does Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich have in common with tax protestor Ed Brown, now serving a lengthy prison sentence? Each boycotted their trials.

Blagojevich's impeachment trial in the Illinois Senate began yesterday, but the Governor was busy doing television appearances. He claims he's skipping the trial because the rules are biased against him -- he's particularly claimed that the rules don't allow him to call witnesses. Is that true?

Not exactly. The rules, which can be viewed here, provide that either side can request a subpoena commanding a witness to appear, and that the Senate shall vote on the motion (see Rule 15). So the Governor does not have a right to subpoena witnesses, but he can ask the Senate to issue a subpoena. Unless he's asked and had his request refused, his complaint that he's not being allowed to call witnesses rings somewhat hollow.

The rules also call (Rule 22) for each witnesses testifying to be questioned by one side and cross-examined by the other, which is your basic testimonial procedure.

The rules aren't perfect (Rule 15 permits the U.S. Attorney to veto any witness subpoena), but Governor Blagojevich's protest seems overblown. He's up against a serious charge, and he's entitled to and should receive a fair trial, but failing to attend doesn't seem like a recipe for helping his cause. He should fight his charges at his trial, not on TV.

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