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Indicted State Rep. Won’t Testify Before Investigative Panel

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Illinois State Rep. Derrick Smith (D-Chicago) leaves the Dirksen Building federal courthouse on March 13, 2012, after he was released on bond, following his arrest for allegedly taking a $7,000 bribe. (Credit: CBS)

Illinois State Rep. Derrick Smith (D-Chicago) leaves the Dirksen Building federal courthouse on March 13, 2012, after he was released on bond, following his arrest for allegedly taking a $7,000 bribe. (Credit: CBS)

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (CBS) – State Rep. Derrick Smith (D-Chicago) told a special legislative panel Thursday that he is innocent of the federal bribery charges he is facing, but he refused to testify under oath.

A Special Investigative Committee of the Illinois House has been meeting to determine if Smith should face any disciplinary action over his indictment on allegations he took a $7,000 cash bribe.

Smith appeared before that committee on Thursday to make a statement, but he said he would not testify under oath.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Alex Degman reports

His lawyer, Victor Henderson, said any sworn testimony before the committee could affect Smith’s pending criminal trial.

Without being able to question Smith, lawmakers on the panel peppered Henderson with questions, most of which he wouldn’t answer either. Henderson said he’s waiting for the federal government to release more information on the indictment against Smith, so he can compare it to the criminal complaint.

He advised lawmakers to do the same and said, at this point, he doesn’t believe the charges against Smith.

“Democracy requires of all of us to not rush to judgment, to get the information, to learn and then to act instead of just acting hastily,” Henderson said. “I don’t think that’s a standard that just goes for Rep. Smith.”

Lawmakers replied it’s their job to make a judgment call based on the information presented, as they did with former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Lawmakers formed a similar investigative committee shortly after Blagojevich’s arrest in 2008, leading to his impeachment and removal from office less than two months after his arrest, long before he ever faced trial.

The investigative panel’s proceedings are not criminal proceedings, so any information Smith presents or, as has been the case so far, doesn’t present, can be used against him. They are also not required to meet the same burden of proof as a criminal jury — in other words, they do not need to find him guilty of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt, but can expel any member of the House by a two-thirds vote, if they establish an act of “disorderly conduct.”

Smith is accused of accepting a $7,000 cash bribe from in exchange for writing a letter of support for a state grant to a daycare center. Although the daycare center itself was real, the owner Smith believed he was writing the letter for was fictitious, and part of a federal sting operation.

House prosecutor David Ellis told Henderson the panel wants to know if the letter exists, as alleged in the criminal complaint.

“The official act that Rep. Smith is accused of committing is writing this letter of support. Is there something that you want to tell us about this, something that you can point to in the criminal complaint that is incorrect, taken out of context?” Ellis asked. “We’re trying to figure out… did he write this letter?”

Henderson wouldn’t confirm or deny the letter exists. He said he’s waiting for the federal government to release all its information so he can compare it with the criminal complaint.

The committee’s timetable is unclear, but Smith is due back in court at the end of the month.

Several top Democrats — including Gov. Pat Quinn and Smith’s political mentor, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White — have called for Smith to resign his House seat and step down from the race for his seat this fall, but so far Smith has said he has no intention of quitting.

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