Jim Dey | Morass of complex legal issues dog Schock case

Jim Dey | Morass of complex legal issues dog Schock case

Lawyers for former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock say it would be unreasonable for them to be required to prepare for trial while they pursue an appeal they hope will result in a dismissal of the corruption case against their client.

Their request for a further delay will be one of the subjects of discussion July 13 (the initial July 6 hearing date has been pushed back a week) at the U.S. Courthouse in Urbana, where Judge Colin Bruce will be required to balance the interests of prosecutors and defense lawyers.

Government lawyers want Bruce to set a trial date. The defense is requesting a continued delay as Schock's lawyers seek a U.S. Supreme Court review of an appeals court ruling denying their motion to dismiss.

In legal papers filed this week, the defense asserted that it would be a waste of judicial resources to "be simultaneously preparing for trial while going through the certiorari process that could render any trial moot, affect whether certain counts may be dismissed, and/or substantially affect ruling by this court on pending motions."

"These interests are more acute given that (Schock) presents a strong case for Supreme Court review," said Schock's Washington, D.C., lawyer, George Terwilliger.

Schock, a former U.S. House member from Peoria, was indicted in November 2016 on a variety of charges related to the alleged misuse of government and campaign funds.

Schock has acknowledged record-keeping errors in the handling of government and campaign funds but denied any intentional wrongdoing.

Further, he has asserted that the indictment against him is based on interpretations of House rules that are beyond the authority of the executive branch to make.

Bruce has acknowledged the government's case against Schock is "rife" with separation-of-powers issues. He dismissed two charges the government filed against Schock, but declined to dismiss the remainder of the indictment.

A federal appeals court in Chicago affirmed Bruce's ruling, holding that it did not have jurisdiction to dismiss the case before trial. The appeals court said it would review Schock's arguments if he is convicted and then appeals that conviction.

Schock's legal team formally announced that it "intends to file a timely appeal" seeking high court review.

The high court accepts only a small percentage of the cases submitted for review. So, under normal circumstances, Schock's chances would be minimal.

But the defense pointed out that the 7th circuit's decision is at odds with rulings in another federal circuit. In that context, the high court would be more likely to accept the case so it could establish a single standard in each of the 10 federal circuits.

"The 7th circuit has explicitly recognized that its ruling creates a split with other courts of appeal, and the subject matter of that disagreement, the separation of powers, undoubtedly constitutes an 'important matter,'" Terwilliger wrote.

As an alternative to setting a trial date, the defense suggested that Bruce has "the option of resolving the outstanding pretrial motions."

While Bruce denied Schock's motion to dismiss the case, he has not yet addressed a handful of other defense motions.

Schock has motions pending asking for dismissal of the case based on prosecutorial misconduct and violations of his Fifth Amendment rights before the grand jury that indicted him. He's also seeking exculpatory information that prosecutors allegedly have withheld from the defense and is seeking to suppress evidence "illegally obtained" by a member of Schock's congressional staff, who became a government informant.

Showing just what a spider's web of litigation this case represents, Terwilliger said, "depending on the court's decision on how to proceed, Schock may also return to the court and seek leave to file further motions."

The 37-year-old Schock was considered a politician on the ascendancy when news reports in early 2015 linked him to allegations of improper mileage reimbursements. The information was gathered by a still-unidentified group that turned it over to a number of news outlets. The disclosures led to complaints filed against Schock before the House ethics committee, his subsequent resignation from the House and then a federal investigation resulted in the indictment.

Any trial probably will not be held until 2019. But when in 2019 is the issue.

Terwilliger noted that the appeal process to the high court could extend into 2019. At the same time, the government wants a trial date "in early 2019."

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or by phone at 217-351-5369.