Friday, February 24, 2006

 

Illinois' Political Culture

Corruption, favors and conflicts of interest

I'm not sure, but I think its unusual for a US attorney to testify on behalf of a criminal defendant in federal court. But this is Illinois and now that we know this (registration required) it doesn't seem so unusual after all:
A federal prosecutor who testified on behalf of former Gov. George Ryan still owes money to creditors of Chicago-based Altheimer & Gray, the prosecutor's former law firm that went bankrupt in 2003.

Edward McNally, interim U.S. attorney for southern Illinois, has not been taken to court, but four other former Altheimer partners who have not paid their debts have been sued by the firm's court-appointed adminstrator to recover what is owed.

The administrator is represented by Chicago law firm Winston & Strawn, which also represents Ryan in the public corruption trial.
Winston & Strawn is representing Ryan free of charge. The Sun-Times has more:
Winston & Strawn has sued four former partners on Brandzel's behalf, seeking amounts ranging from $333,355.36 to $566,129.37. Based on McNally's 2 percent interest in the law firm, he owes LaSalle $574,750.63, according to a formula spelled out in court documents.

He could be on the hook for much more, according to Brandzel. Each partner who did not participate in the plan is "liable for whatever the deficiency is in the estate ... It's $8 to $10 million," he said.

The Winston & Strawn lawyers handling the Altheimer bankruptcy did not return calls seeking comment Thursday. Nor could legal experts explain why Winston would pursue some former Altheimer partners and not others.

"It could be viewed -- if viewed with great suspicion -- as a kind of quid quo pro. As in 'you testify for us, and we'll continue not to sue you,' " said Geoffrey Hazard, a professor of legal ethics at the University of California's Hastings College of the Law.
John Kass notes that 'McNally ripped the prosecution's case, which infuriated federal prosecutors here, because McNally was, at least on paper, one of their own.' Kass comments:
"Clearly, Mr. McNally has a huge financial stake in whether or not--whether and to what extent he is forced to pay that settlement in these bankruptcy proceedings," said Assistant U.S. Atty. Zach Fardon outside the presence of the jury Thursday.

"That's a huge financial conflict of interest. It's a significant bias issue in terms of Mr. McNally's motive to curry favor, to play nice with Winston & Strawn when they call him as a witness in this case," Fardon continued. "We should have known about that. I should have known about that. I should have had an opportunity to cross examine Mr. McNally about that and I didn't."

Ryan's lawyers from Winston & Strawn swore they didn't know anything about the conflict. It would be hard to prove they did. And I don't think they did know. It wasn't in their interest to know. Prosecutors took them at their word.

"Having said that, Judge," Fardon said, "the one person who did know that he had this financial hammer over his head with Winston involved is the witness, Ed McNally. I would have hoped and expected that that information would be forthcoming through whatever avenue, whether there are other folks at Winston who knew or McNally himself. It wasn't. That's a problem."

It is a problem.

Not only for this case but also for every other case of political corruption in the combine state, from the indicted Springfield Republicans to the Chicago Democrats who are waiting their turn.

So, what do taxpayers of Illinois--who've been trained to believe that corruption isn't important and politics isn't worth their time--call a U.S. attorney who decides not to disclose his conflict before testifying in defense of a combine master?

In Illinois, someday, you might call him "Your honor."
Sad but true.

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