The Lawyer-Legislators’ Defense

The renovated Illinois House of Representatives chamber from the Democratic Party side.

One of the way lawyers in the General Assembly make money is by attracting clients who have not only a business agenda, but a legislative agenda.

Because state law does not require attorneys to list their clients, there’s no central place to look to see if a particular lawyer-legislator is benefiting personally from his legislative position.

Now comes evidence in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel from neighboring state Wisconsin that this practice actually existed in Wisconsin.

Columnist Daniel Bice writes of two admitted felons asking for rollbacks of their verdicts based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s Enron Jeff Skilling “honest services” case.

That’s the case U.S. Attorneys have used to convict numerous politicians whom, it was argued, did not provide their constituents with “honest services.” The Supreme Court ruled that was not a specific enough crime, that to fit there had to be a bribe or a kickback.

Most Illinois politicians, a highly evolved species, know better than to be involved in such direct behavior. They prefer the “I’ll do a favor for you now,” “You do a favor for me down the road” approach.

Anticipation of the Supreme Court decision required a last minute re-work of the case against Rod Blagojevich.

Now Bice is telling readers that Nicholas Hurtgen, a Wisconsin political operative turned Bear Stearn biggie in Chicago is seeking to withdraw his guilty plea.

Hurtgen, of course, was involved in the Crystal Lake Mercy Hospital scandal.

But the more interesting part of the column is the information about ex-State Senator Gary George, described as the most powerful African-American politician in Wisconsin. He “pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy for accepting kickbacks of legal fees paid by an inner-city social service agency” and is now out of prison.

Now read what the man with a now-suspended law license says,

“”It is not bribery behavior under federal law to seek and receive legal work as a state legislator.”

Think that might apply to lawyer-legislators in Illinois?

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After finishing this, I found this commentary on lawyer-legislator Abraham Lincoln on Tom Roeser’s blog:

Anyone who has deeply studied Lincoln, a political and literary genius, knows that he was a successful railroad lawyer while he was a state legislator…knows that he unfurled a map of Illinois on his desk in the House and bargained the routes of railroad lines across the state, making deals on what towns the trains would stop at…which he used to run for the U. S. Senate where he got more votes than Stephen A. Douglas (not that it did him any good as the legislatures in those days named U. S. senators and they picked Douglas).

Remember there were no serious conflict of interest laws then binding state lawmakers.

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