Madigan’s ‘not guilty’ plea signals protracted case

Madigan’s ‘not guilty’ plea signals protracted case

CHICAGO, IL — Not guilty pleas were entered Wednesday by former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and co-defendant Michael McClain. A corruption expert says that signals it’s going to be a long slog to justice.

Bond was issued for both Madigan and McClain after they pleaded not guilty to corruption and other charges during their arraignment hearing by phone Wednesday. Madigan, 79, faces 22 counts of corruption, including bribery, fraud and racketeering charges in connection to an investigation into utility giant ComEd and its attempts to gain favor with the former speaker in exchange for favorable legislation.

Madigan, who denies wrongdoing, did not speak during the hearing.

McClain, who had problems getting on the phone for the hearing, did speak.

As he was saying he apologized for being “electronically challenged,” the judge interrupted him and said he didn’t have to say anything. McClain insisted.

“I would just say that again we thank the court very much and the government and all the court personnel for your patience today,” McClain said.

Federal prosecutors entered a motion for a protective order in discovery, which the judge signed.

“We’re in the process of preparing a rather large first wave of discovery to be sent over,” Assistant U.S. Attorneys Amarjeet Bhachu said. “We do have a protective order related to discovery that we’d like to present to the court that’s agreed to by the parties for entry so that would facilitate our first document production.”

Saint Xavier University assistant professor David Parker said that indicates there may be some information that isn’t relevant or too voluminous to produce.

The not guilty pleas indicate this will be a long process to get to a resolution, Parker said.

“It’s gonna be lengthy,” Parker told The Center Square. “It sounds like he’s in it for the long haul and he’s gonna play kind of a game of who blinked first.”

One way to speed things up, Parker said, is for federal prosecutors to make a deal with Madigan. But, if the case goes to trial, Parker said convincing a jury of Madigan’s claims that his actions were routine constituent services may be difficult.

“Are they really gonna believe that ‘all I was doing is constituent service and making some job recommendations with no quid pro quo,’” Parker said.

While Madigan, who turns 80 next month, was pleading not guilty to the charges in that Chicago federal court, Illinois lawmakers conducted business Wednesday at the capitol in Springfield.

State Rep. Deanne Mazzochi, R-Elmhurst, said it’s incumbent on legislators to take up substantive ethics reforms, like ending the ability for people to use campaign funds for criminal cases, as Madigan has done, or prohibiting aldermanic privilege that leads to quid pro quo.

“If you wanna be a real voice and a real vote for change, I urge you to do so and sign on to some of these bills,” Mazzochi said on the House floor. “Because otherwise you are status quo for the quid pro quo.”

After being forced out of his role as speaker in 2021, a position he held for all but two years since 1983, and then resigning his legislative seat, Madigan’s campaign fund, Friends of Michael J. Madigan, spent $2 million with his criminal defense law firm.

After Wednesday’s session, state Rep. Anne Stava-Murray, D-Naperville, who never supported Madigan since taking office, said she’s glad Madigan was no longer in power when the indictment came down.

“What kind of circus would have gone down and how the people’s work would have been interrupted and impacted, and I’m just glad we were able to avoid that,” Stava-Murry told The Center Square.

Madigan lost support as speaker in January 2021 after being identified as “Public Official A” in a deferred prosecution agreement with ComEd in the summer of 2020. ComEd agreed to pay a $200 million fine and cooperate with the federal corruption probe. As part of the agreement, the utility admitted it paid $1.3 million in jobs and contracts to associates of Madigan over nine years to influence the former House speaker. A former ComEd official, Fidel Marquez, pleaded guilty to bribery charges in September 2020. Other ComEd executives also have been charged and are awaiting trial.

Madigan stepped down from office in February 2021 and also stepped down from chairing the Democratic Party of Illinois.

Prosecutors allege he used his positions at the statehouse and in politics for personal gain.

A status hearing in the case is set for April 1.

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