CHICAGO — Amidst photos and handwritten letters in auction boxes connected to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich are confidential client-attorney papers from his lawyer days and opposition research on his 2006 gubernatorial race rival Judy Baar Topinka, a Northwestern University librarian said Wednesday.
Librarian Jeffrey Garrett bought 18 boxes of files, photos, and videotapes at the Boyer-Rosene Moving and Storage auction last Thursday on behalf of Northwestern's special libraries, which documents the careers of significant alum, he said.
"Our interest is to provide the original record of a political career of an individual who will probably be talked about for many years to come," he said.
Confidential client files from when Blagojevich was a practicing attorney were in the boxes, Garrett said. Blagojevich worked in the Cook County State's Attorney office for two years in the 1980s — mostly in traffic court, according to a State's Attorney spokesman.
Released client files can potentially break client-attorney confidentiality. James Grogan, deputy administrator of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, wouldn't comment specifically on the files sold at the Blagojevich auction. He did say attorneys are violating client confidentiality if they abandon files, even if it's for financial reasons.
"It's the highest level of responsibility one owes to another," Grogan said of client-attorney confidentiality.
State records show Blagojevich's law license is inactive. But a privacy violation can disbar attorneys from practicing law in the state — and potentially more — even if the license is inactive, Grogan said.
Blagojevich's publicist Glenn Selig said Wednesday the Friends of Blagojevich campaign fund rented the storage units and that before the auction, the governor didn't know specifically what was in the units. He did not comment when asked about the client files.
Opposition research about Blagojevich's 2006 gubernatorial rival, Judy Baar Topinka, was also in the files.
Topinka is running for state Comptroller in the upcoming election. Topinka spokesman Brad Hahn said in response to the research that "nothing Rod Blagojevich does surprises" her and "he has proven he will sink to any level."
She probably doesn't need to be worried. Defamatory material can't legally be in the public eye, Garrett said. Plus, it may take months or years to process all the information, he said.
"We need to know what the law is," Garrett said.
Blagojevich, who was removed from office after being accused of corruption, was convicted last Tuesday on one count of lying to the FBI. Jurors deadlocked on 23 other counts against him, and he is expected to face a retrial on charges including that he schemed to sell an appointment to President Barack Obama's Senate seat.
The owner of the storage company has said the items were auctioned off because the units hadn't been paid for in more than a year. Auction proceeds went to Children's Memorial Hospital.
Selig said Blagojevich "had no idea any money was due and had not seen an invoice until July." The ousted governor wishes many of the items had not been sold, Selig said, and was "heartbroken" when a man approached him last weekend to sign a photo of Blagojevich holding his daughter that he'd bought from the auction.
But auction items like the photos and personally written letters to supporters showed one aspect of the ousted governor to Garrett:
"It was no fluke or historical accident that Rod Blagojevich was as successful as he was," he said. "The whole flamboyance of his personality is documented in this archive."