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Blagojevich's Lawyer Ed Genson Off Impeachment Trial

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CHICAGO — Ten days before the impeachment trial that could cost Gov. Rod Blagojevich his office, his team of defense lawyers said Friday they have withdrawn from the proceedings, which two of the attorneys compared to a "lynching."

Lead attorney Edward M. Genson disassociated himself from any lynching talk but did say the rules of the state Senate trial, the first of its kind in Illinois history, "were extraordinarily unfair" and assured that the governor would be convicted.

"It's a foregone conclusion," Genson told The Associated Press. He said he decided "a few days ago" not to take part but since then has been directed by Blagojevich not to attend.

"I have been instructed not to participate in the impeachment trial," he said. He said he will still defend Blagojevich on federal charges of fraud and bribery.

Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 9 and charged with planning to trade or sell the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by Barack Obama's election. He was also charged with illegally using his powers to squeeze campaign contributors for money and planning to pressure the Chicago Tribune to fire editorial writers who wanted him impeached.

Attorney Sam Adam and his son, Samuel E. Adam, told the Chicago Tribune they have not had enough time to get ready for the Senate trial and don't have subpoena power to call their own witnesses.

"We cannot and will not degrade our client, ourselves, our oaths and our profession, as well as the office of the governor, by participating in a Potemkin-like lynching proceeding, thus making it appear that the governor is represented by competent counsel when in fact he is not," they said in a statement to the Tribune.

It appeared that Blagojevich's legal advisers were divided, though, with Genson saying that the strongly worded statement given to the Tribune was not from him.

"I am not in contact with them," Genson said. Both Adamses are longtime Genson friends who have served as co-counsels in some of his most spectacular trials.

Genson _ a legendary Chicago defense attorney whose clients have included R&B star R. Kelly and media mogul Conrad Black _ represented Blagojevich during impeachment hearings in the Illinois House. He argued that there was no evidence the governor committed a crime and called the impeachment panel's proceedings unfair and perhaps illegal.

House members voted 114-1 last week to impeach Blagojevich, who now faces a trial in the Senate beginning Jan. 26.

The Senate is not considering any delay in the trial because of the attorney shakeup, said Cindy Davidsmeyer, spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago.

Blagojevich faces long odds in the trial. The jurors are 59 politicians who have often feuded with him and ultimately answer to voters _ who according to polls strongly disapprove of Blagojevich.

And forget about "reasonable doubt." Each senator can decide independently what standard of proof to use in reaching a verdict. Senators can also vote to overturn rulings by the judge presiding over the trial.

A change in legal counsel gives Blagojevich a solid reason to request some delay in the trial, said Ann Lousin, former Illinois House parliamentarian and professor at John Marshall Law School. But the trial for an impeached governor shouldn't be postponed more than a week or so, she said.

Andrew Leipold, a University of Illinois law professor, said it's common to give new attorneys time to get familiar with a case, but the impeachment trial is political, not legal. That means courtroom rules don't always apply.

Genson said he didn't know whether Blagojevich is talking with other lawyers about representing him at the Senate trial.

Samuel E. Adam did not immediately return a phone message left by The Associated Press. Blagojevich spokesman Lucio Guerrero would not comment on the attorneys' decision or who will represent the governor now.

The attorneys' withdrawal was the latest surprising twist in the story that began with Blagojevich's arrest on charges that include plotting to sell or trade Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat.

Blagojevich finally appointed Roland Burris to the seat and there has been no allegation of any wrongdoing on Burris' part.

Federal prosecutors have until April 7 to produce an indictment against Blagojevich and his co-defendant, former chief of staff John Harris.

The federal investigation of Blagojevich, his administration and his political advisers has been going on for years and until several months ago he had been represented by another law firm. Then it was announced that Genson, a colorful, wisecracking courtroom veteran who has achieved all but legendary status in Chicago, was taking the case.

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Associated Press Writers Deanna Bellandi in Chicago and Andrea Zelinski in Springfield contributed to this story.