By Jayette Bolinski | Illinois Statehouse News
SPRINGFIELD – House lawmakers and the attorney for indicted Rep. Derrick Smith disagreed Wednesday on how quickly a committee should move in determining whether Smith should be disciplined by his colleagues.
Smith, under federal indictment for one count of bribery in his role as a state representative, has not gone to trial, and he still is receiving discovery information from federal prosecutors about their evidence, the attorney, Victor Henderson, said.
But members of the House of Representatives’ bipartisan Select Committee on Discipline, charged with deliberating possible professional punishment for Smith, want to move forward as quickly as possible, saying they can be ready as early as Friday. The committee’s first meeting was Wednesday morning in Chicago.
Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, said no compelling reason exists to hold off on further hearings, because much of the evidence and the witnesses from the federal probe won’t be available to the committee.
“Much of what Mr. Henderson is referring to may be helpful to him in the criminal case but may not be useful to this committee and this proceeding,” Lang said.
Henderson countered: “Would you want a teacher to give you a grade before giving you a test?”
Henderson said moving forward that quickly would undermine the “fair” and “deliberate” manner in which the committee vowed to proceed.
“From the representative’s perspective, you cannot have a fair and deliberate process that will result in the right (outcome) anytime soon,” Henderson said. “I don’t want to put a date on it. If there is an attempt to expedite the process prior to the time of the November elections, then that undermines any attempt to present the proceeding as being one that is being fair and deliberate.”
Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, who chairs the committee, said she will release a schedule of further hearings by the end of the week, possibly sooner.
Smith, a Chicago Democrat, was not at Wednesday’s hearing. Committee members asked Henderson if Smith would attend any of the hearings to testify on his own behalf. Henderson said there is a plan for that, but said he and Smith will not decide until they’ve had a chance to review all information made available to them by the U.S. attorney. He noted that prosecutors had given them discs containing some of the evidence within the past 24 to 48 hours.
“You acknowledge the representative has a constitutional right to remain silent. So to suggest or imply that by exercising his constitutional rights – that are guaranteed to all of us – and his failure to discuss with this body thus far means he has not taken advantage of an opportunity to speak is not completely accurate,” Henderson said. “If that’s the case, the right the Constitution guarantees all of us is meaningless.”
The Select Committee on Discipline is the second step in a process that allows the House of Representatives to determine whether Smith should face some kind of professional discipline.
The first phase of the process involved the House Special Investigating Committee, which was formed to look into the allegations against Smith and determine if there was enough evidence to proceed with possible discipline. Members of that committee announced June 6 sufficient reason existed to move forward.
The House Select Committee on Discipline is made up of lawmakers from both parties. It includes six Democrats – Currie, Edward Acevedo, Greg Harris, Camille Lilly and Kim du Buclet, all of Chicago, and Al Riley of Olympia Fields — and six Republicans – Chapin Rose, of Mahomet; Michael Connelly, of Lisle; Renee Kosel, of New Lenox; Sid Mathias, of Buffalo Grove; Chris Nybo, of Elmhurst; and Joe Sosnowski, of Rockford.
Two representatives, Lang and Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, will “try” the case before the committee, and the 12 other lawmakers will act as jurors who will “hear” the case. The jurors can recommend that Smith be exonerated, reprimanded, censured or expelled from the Legislature.
Jayette Bolinski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.