Illinois House panel pushes ahead with probe of indicted lawmaker

Justice SystemCrime, Law and JusticeElectionsPoliticsRoger ClemensLouis I Lang

A panel of Illinois House lawmakers gathered Wednesday to begin weighing possible disciplinary action against an indicted West Side Rep. Derrick Smith, whose attorney alleged the process was politically motivated to impose punishment ahead of the November election.

The meeting was intended to set rules and establish a schedule for proceedings against Smith, who is accused by federal prosecutors of taking a bribe to help a day care center get a state grant. But when case managers for the House said they could submit the evidence needed to move forward by Friday, Smith attorney Victor Henderson said that time frame was not long enough to give his client a fair hearing.

“It’s impossible to be fair and to be deliberate and to hear evidence and do these things by Friday,” Henderson said. “If there is an attempt to expedite the process prior to the November elections, then that undermines any attempt to represent the proceeding as one that is being fair or deliberate.”

Henderson argued that a protection order issued by the judge hearing the federal case makes it difficult for him to get the information he needs to properly defend his client before lawmakers. Henderson argued that lawmakers were moving forward on nothing more than allegations.

But House lawmakers noted the disciplinary hearings are separate from the criminal trial, saying much of the evidence that can be submitted in federal court is barred from legislative proceedings.

“Neither the election nor the federal prosecution should hold up the proceedings of the House of Representatives to determine whether there is a member among us who A) Has violated the law or B) has violated the public’s trust,” said Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat who is presenting the case before his colleagues.

Smith won the Democratic primary election just days after his March arrest by federal agents. Authorities have said Smith was recorded discussing the matter several times with a campaign worker, who was working as a government informant.

On Wednesday, Henderson described the informant as a “con-man” with a long arrest record who should not be trusted. Henderson cautioned against a rush to judgment, noting the recent acquittal of former baseball pitcher Roger Clemens on perjury charges.
Smith has refused to resign and remove his name from the Nov. 6 ballot, leading West Side Democratic leaders to get behind attorney Lance Tyson as a third-party candidate.

The House disciplinary panel could recommend he be reprimanded, censured or expelled, matters that would be taken up by the full House. Smith also could be exonerated. If Smith is removed from office but wins the election, he could not face further disciplinary action.

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