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Maria Vertuno (far left), director of Bradley's Pre-Law Center, meets with (from left to right) assistant House prosecutor Michael Kasper, House prosecutor David Ellis and assistant House prosecutor Heather Wier Vaught before a panel discussion on April 30.
By Gayle McDowell '77
Three attorneys provided a candid, behind-the-scenes look at the January impeachment trial of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The Illinois General Assembly prosecution team, led by David Ellis, visited the Hilltop on April 30, speaking to about 100 students and area residents.
“We wanted to bring integrity and dignity to the process,” said Ellis, the chief counsel to the speaker of the Illinois House. He explained the purpose of impeachment is not to punish the elected official, but rather to protect the people of the state.
“When you put all the testimony together, it was so clear he was abusing his power,” said Heather Weir Vaught, assistant House prosecutor. “You could hear a pin drop the day he was impeached. It was a very emotional moment.”
Assistant House prosecutor Michael Kasper detailed how the prosecution team grappled with making the trial “interesting” to the Senate. Unable to call witnesses that will be used by federal prosecutors, and without the participation of Blagojevich and his lawyer, it seemed the trial would have little drama. The attorneys came up with the idea of using large white boards with quotes from the governor.
“At the end of the day, it was about the governor’s own words,” said Ellis. The prosecutors noted that Blagojevich apologized for his language while appearing on a Chicago radio program, thereby admitting he made the statements on the tapes.
The prosecutors believe the federal trial could be two years away and that more wrongdoing by the former governor will surface. “We probably only know half the story now,” said Vaught.
The panel discussion was sponsored by Bradley’s new Pre-Law Center, and was arranged by its director Maria Vertuno.