Illinois House expels Rep. Derrick Smith over bribery charge

Crime, Law and JusticeJustice SystemPoliticsElectionsAuction ServiceRod Blagojevich

State lawmakers today kicked out a West Side Democrat accused of taking a $7,000 bribe, marking the first expulsion from the Illinois House since 1905.

Rep. Derrick Smith failed to show up to defend himself or hear his fellow House lawmakers condemn his alleged actions before the 100-6 vote was taken. Three lawmakers voted present (see roll call here).

“We do not take lightly the expulsion of a member,” said House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, who chaired the discipline panel that recommended expulsion. “The case against Rep. Smith, however, is about something that no member of the House can consider harmless.”

“To act in this way is to me a stunning violation of the oath of office each of us has sworn to uphold,” Currie added. “Sometimes actions are so egregious, so contrary to the core values…of the institution that we must act, and we must act now.”

At a news conference at his lawyer's office, Smith said his former colleagues did not wait to hear all the evidence. He called this a both "happy and sad day."

"I am happy because through this ordeal I have been able to learn who my friends are," Smith said. Friends, he said, "stick by you through thick and thin."

The 48-year-old Smith is under federal indictment arising from a sting operation that led to his arrest a week before the March 20 primary that he won overwhelmingly. Smith remains on the Nov. 6 ballot, and voters could choose to send him back to the House.

The disciplinary action against Smith required the votes of 79 members of the 118-member House. Smith was arrested March 13 by federal agents who alleged he used his office stationery to push for a $50,000 grant for a fictitious operator of a day-care center in exchange for $7,000. Prosecutors said Smith was caught on recordings with a federal informant as the deal was struck and cash was counted.

"When you get down to the heart of the matter," said Rep. Dennis Reboletti, R-Elmhurst, a former prosecutor who helped lead the first panel that looked at the Smith case. "Rep. Smith chose not to testify before us... He chose not to deny that those conversations ever took place."

Reboletti told colleagues they just "had to follow the evidence," including a conversation in which Smith had $7,000 counting out to him.

"If you look at Rep. Smith's seat, he isn't here," said Reboletti, who noted Smith took another pass on defending himself.

Smith, who faces a potential federal criminal trial, chose to issue a statement instead at earlier proceedings.

Rep. Charles Jefferson, D-Rockford, questioned whether Smith was getting due process because his federal criminal case is not yet decided. Reboletti said the bar for expelling a lawmaker is lower than the standards in a criminal case.

In January 2009, the House impeached then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich a little over a month after his arrest by federal agents at his home on charges that included trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated when Barack Obama won the White House.

Yet the last time the House ousted a lawmaker over alleged misdeeds was in 1905, when the expelled another rookie Chicago Democrat, Frank D. Comerford.

Comerford's misstep was suggesting at a college lecture that other Illinois lawmakers had taken bribes, likening the General Assembly to a "public auction." Angry House lawmakers booted him within weeks.

Angry House colleagues over allegations that the General Assembly was up for sale like a "public auction.”

Smith did not serve long at the Capitol. Democratic ward bosses appointed Smith last March, including Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White. Now they are lined up against him and support a third-party candidate. If Smith goes on to win the November election, he could not be expelled a second time based on the same set of findings, something akin to a legal provision against double jeopardy. He would, however, still face federal charges.

Smith told reporters today that he intends to stay on the ballot and seek election.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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