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Madigan trial delayed until October for SCOTUS review of bribery statute

Madigan trial delayed until October for SCOTUS review of bribery statute

At court hearing, former Democratic powerhouse makes first appearance in court

By HANNAH MEISEL
Capitol News Illinois
hmeisel@capitolnewsillinois.com

CHICAGO – Former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan won’t be spending his 82nd birthday in a federal courtroom this spring after a judge on Wednesday granted his request to delay his bribery and racketeering trial originally set to begin April 1.

Madigan claimed the small victory while appearing in court for the first time since he was indicted nearly two years ago, opting to show up in person to a hearing at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse Wednesday afternoon despite having been granted permission to appear via videoconference. Sporting a black suit and royal blue tie, the former speaker spoke only once during the hearing.

“Yes I do, your honor,” Madigan said in reply to U.S. District Judge Robert Blakey’s question as to whether he consented to the trial’s rescheduling to Oct. 8.

The trial is now scheduled for several months after the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to weigh in on the case of a northwest Indiana mayor convicted under the same federal bribery statutes at play in Madigan’s case. Attorneys for the former speaker and his codefendant argued the high court’s ruling could affect the outcome of Madigan’s case.

Blakey agreed during the hourlong hearing, likening the risk of going to trial prior to the Supreme Court’s expected June ruling to stepping on a Lego brick.

“I’d go, ‘George! I thought I told you to pick up the Legos!’” Blakey said, recounting telling his then-young son to clean up his toys. “And he’d say, ‘Eh, I picked up most of them.’”

Blakey acknowledged that while only a third of the 23 charges Madigan is facing could be affected by the high court’s ruling and posited that no parties involved want to “walk into a dark room with no shoes on” and be thrown a Lego by the Supreme Court. 

Most critically, Blakey said, delaying the trial until after the Supreme Court’s ruling would avoid the possibility of having to redo the entire trial, which he said would be a waste of everyone’s resources. Government prosecutors opposed the delay, but in a filing Tuesday evening offered that they’d be willing to reevaluate jury instructions if the high court had not ruled by the time the case was nearing a close in late spring.

But Blakey rejected that solution, saying the “critical juncture” for clarity on what the federal bribery statute says does not occur during jury instructions. Rather, he said, it occurs even before opening statements begin, as attorneys on both sides prepare for trial.

“You’re absolutely right: there’s a bunch of the case that won’t be affected,” he said. “But there’s enough of the case that’s going to be affected that it might require retrial.”

The case at issue on the Supreme Court’s docket is a review of a 2021 conviction of a northwest Indiana mayor who accepted $13,000 from a company that had recently won contracts to sell garbage trucks to the city. The high court accepted the case last month and is expected to clarify whether “gratuities” are the same as bribes, even if there’s no quid pro quo agreement in place.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu pointed out that prosecutors in the Northern District of Illinois are overseeing that case, which stems from Portage, Indiana, about 20 miles east of the Illinois border. 

“When you corruptly solicit a payment…an actual quid pro quo isn’t required,” Bhachu maintained during Wednesday’s hearing. 

But Federal appeals courts have split on the issue, and Madigan has already attempted to have the case dismissed on similar grounds, though Blakey has yet to rule on that motion from last year.

Madigan was forced out of his 36-year reign as House Speaker in early 2021 as pressure grew from his own Democratic caucus after he was cited as “Public Official A” in federal charging documents against electric utility Commonwealth Edison and former top lobbyists and executives at the company.

Prosecutors alleged ComEd bribed Madigan with jobs and contracts for his political allies in exchange for favorable legislation in Springfield. ComEd agreed to pay a $200 million fine as part of its resolution of the legal action against it, while the company’s former CEO and three ex-lobbyists fought the charges in a seven-week trial last spring. All were ultimately convicted by a jury. 

Read more: ‘ComEd Four’ found guilty on all counts in bribery trial tied to ex-Speaker Madigan 

The four are still awaiting sentencing, which was originally scheduled for January before being delayed due to court scheduling conflicts. Also awaiting sentencing is the former ComEd executive who wore a wire against his colleagues and became the government’s star witness in last year’s trial.

Read more: One year after Madigan’s indictment, former speaker’s allies prepare for trial 

Madigan wasn’t indicted until March 2022, more than a year after he’d stepped down from nearly every public office he’d held, including as head of the state’s Democratic Party and the legislative seat he’d kept for 50 years representing Chicago’s southwest side.

Read more: Ex-Speaker Madigan indicted on 22 public corruption counts

The indictment was largely a repackaging of allegations from the ComEd cases, claiming Madigan and his codefendant – ComEd’s longtime top outside lobbyist Mike McClain – ran a “criminal enterprise” via the power Madigan had accumulated from his positions as both a political power broker and name partner in a Chicago-based property tax law firm. 

In October 2022, the feds added an additional count alleging telecommunications giant AT&T Illinois had been part of a bribery scheme similar to ComEd’s, wherein the company allegedly gave jobs and contracts to Madigan allies in exchange for favorable treatment in Springfield.

 

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of print and broadcast outlets statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

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Hannah  Meisel

Hannah MeiselHannah Meisel

Hannah has been covering Illinois government and politics since 2014, and since then has worked for a variety of outlets from NPR affiliate stations to a startup newsletter. She’s a graduate of both the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the U of I’s Springfield campus, where she received an M.A. through the Public Affairs Reporting program and got her start reporting in the Capitol.

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