By Jamey Dunn
The committee charged with deciding whether to recommend expelling Rep. Derrick Smith from the Illinois House could have a decision as early as this afternoon.
Smith, a Chicago Democrat, is accused of accepting a $7,000 bribe to assist a day care center with getting a state grant from the Illinois Capitol Development Board. However, Smith was the target of a federal sting, and the day care was not actually seeking the grant.
This morning, a House disciplinary committee heard arguments from Smith’s lawyer, Victor Henderson, and Skokie Democratic Rep. Lou Lang and Western Springs Republican Rep. Jim Durkin, who were tasked with making the case against Smith.
Henderson argued that the process was rushed and that the committee should not make its decision until it had access to more information, such as audio recordings and testimony from government agents and an unnamed government informant.
“This is bigger than Derrick Smith. To me, this is really about democracy and democracy in action, and either we believe in democracy or we don’t,” Henderson said at the Chicago hearing.
According to the criminal complaint against Smith, a government informant brokered the deal between the representative and the day care center and delivered the bribe money to Smith.
Henderson argued that the informant has a criminal record and is not a reliable source of information. “I think there’s a difference between having a nun saying somebody did something wrong versus a con man.”
He accused the committee of acting on allegations against Smith without any evidence that the legislator did something wrong. “Do you want all of the important information about this matter or do you not?” Henderson asked the committee. “He wants the whole truth out. Not just bits and pieces of it. ... Rep. Smith is not afraid of the truth. He can handle the truth.”
Lang and Durkin argued that if Smith, who did not attend the hearing today, was interested in getting the truth out; he could have told his side of the story to the committee.
“Mr. Smith, did you accept the $7,000 bribe?” Lang asked an empty chair, where presumably Smith would have sat if he were in attendance. “Do you hear the silence?”
Lang said that in all of the House proceedings, neither Smith nor Henderson have denied the allegations against Smith.
But Henderson rebutted that Smith has pleaded not guilty in criminal court. “He has denied the core allegations of the criminal charge and pled not guilty.”
Henderson called on the committee to slow down the process and give him time to try to get more evidence out of federal prosecutors for use at the hearings. So far, prosecutors have denied requests to release evidence. “I’m just asking for you to do the right thing — on behalf of the representative — which is to hear all of the evidence and then decide. And I would submit as to this point in time, other than some allegations by an FBI agent, you have nothing.”
However, several of the committee members indicated that testimony from Smith would be the most telling evidence in their eyes. “Isn’t the best evidence Mr. Smith being here saying: 'I didn’t do this. Ask me whatever question you want. I’m going to tell you the truth?'” Asked Rep. Sidney Mathias, a Buffalo Grove Republican.
The committee members have gone into deliberation. If they recommend that Smith be expelled from his seat, their recommendation will go to the full House for a vote. A two-thirds majority must vote in favor of expelling Smith for him to lose his seat. Rep. Chicago Democratic Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, chairwoman of the committee, said the group could return with its decision as early as this afternoon or tomorrow.