Thursday, July 19, 2012

Committee recommends expelling Smith from House

By Jamey Dunn

A disciplinary committee recommend today that Chicago Democratic Rep. Derrick Smith be booted from his seat in the Illinois House.

Smith stands accused of accepting a bribe for providing helping a day care in seeking a state grant. Smith was the subject of a federal sting, and the day care was not actually applying for a grant. Smith faces a criminal trial, but first, he will likely face a vote to kick him out of the House.

The committee voted unanimously to find Smith “at fault.” However, Rep. Al Riley was the only vote in opposition of expelling Smith from the House. Riley could not be reached for comment. “I felt, especially with an election coming up, the people of the district would be better served to make a determination on whether Derrick Smith was the person who should represent them in Springfield. My view was that the penalty should be harsh but something less than expulsion,” Riley told reporters in Chicago.

Smith’s lawyer, Victor Henderson, had argued that it was unfair to remove a sitting legislator based on accusations that have not yet been confirmed. “We're not saying don’t make a decision. What we’re saying is, get the information, get all of it, and then decide.” Henderson complained that the process moved too quickly “What’s the rush? There shouldn’t be a rush? We haven’t heard any explanation about why this process has to go as fast as it is.”

But Skokie Democratic Rep. Lou Lang, who argued against Henderson before the committee, pointed out that the burden of proof in the process is not the same as in a criminal trial. Lang said lawmakers were not convicting Smith but simply deciding whether he is fit to serve. “We have a duty to the institution we were all elected to,” he said. Both Lang and Western Springs Republican Rep. Jim Durkin, who also argued the case against Smith, hit hard on the fact that Smith previously refused to answer questions under oath and did not appear at the hearing today. “He isn’t here today. I want you to look at that empty chair during the course of these proceedings and remember that,” Durkin said during his opening argument.

After hearing the arguments, the committee deliberated for more than two hours. “There was, I think, a very vibrant discussion based upon the arguments presented by both sides,” said Mahomet Rep. Chapin Rose, the top Republican on the committee. The committee’s recommendation will now go before the full House. A two-thirds majority is required to expel Smith.

“It’s with a heavy heart that we take this action today,” said Chicago Democratic Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, the chair of the committee. I think I speak for each and every one of us when I say that it is a sad day for us and a very sad day for the Illinois House of Representatives. Not one of us takes any joy in sitting in judgment of our colleagues.”

Currie told reporters that the House would likely vote on Smith’s fate before the November elections, saying there was no reason to “drag this out.”

“I suspect it will be sooner rather than later,” Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, said of the vote by the full House. Brown said the committee still has to draft a report on its recommendation, but he said he thinks the House will take a vote before the veto session, which is scheduled for November. UPDATE: Madigan has announced one day of session on August 17.

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