House Panel Recommends Expelling Rep. Smith
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UPDATED 07/19/12 – 4:26 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — A special Illinois House committee has recommended that State Rep. Derrick Smith be expelled from the House, over allegations he took a $7,000 bribe.
CBS 2’s Derrick Blakley reports the House Select Committee on Discipline voted 11-1 in favor of kicking Smith out, following its final hearing on Thursday in Chicago. The recommendation must be considered by the full House, where 79 votes are needed to expel Smith from his seat.
Smith has been indicted on federal bribery charges, for allegedly taking $7,000 in cash for his help in arranging a state grant for a daycare center.
WBBM Newsradio’s Regine Schlesinger reports Smith himself stayed away from the committee’s final hearing, but his attorney Victor Henderson urged the panel not to act without more information about the charges against his client.
Lawmakers who have pushed for House punishment against Smith have noted the legislative rules on such disciplinary action are not the same standards as a criminal trial.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Regine Schlesinger reports
Henderson complained his client was being judged prematurely, unfairly, and with no real evidence of the charges against him.
“On Day One, we were told the process was going to be fair, deliberate, and you were going to hear the evidence,” Henderson said.
State Rep. Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs), who presented the case for punishing Smith, recommended his colleagues urge the full House expel Smith from his seat.
“We are here because of the conscious decisions and actions made by Representative Derrick Smith, in his official capacity as Illinois State Representative in the 10th District,” Durkin said. “He isn’t here today. I want you to look at that empty chair during the course of these proceedings and remember that.”
State Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), who also argued for Smith’s expulsion said Smith’s refusal to attend the hearings, address the charges against him, and answer questions speaks volumes.
“Whether you think he did the act or not, I think his failure to appear – in and of itself – is grounds,” Lang said. “Who wouldn’t deny it? Is there any sane, rational elected person, or candidate for public office who would ignore a public statement that, ‘Hey, you’re a felon. Hey, you took a bribe. Hey, you’re a crook. Hey, we’ve got you on tape?’ Not one of you running for re-election would ignore that.”
Henderson argued Smith’s decision not to appear before the panel shouldn’t be held against him.
“You can’t say that Derrick Smith has a Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate himself, and to remain silent, but then hold it against him. Either he has the right, or he doesn’t,” Henderson said.
Durkin said the hearing would have given Smith an opportunity to defend himself, “but to date he has refused to participate.”
“You cannot complain about process unless you have availed yourself the process,” Durkin said.
“I challenge Representative Smith to stand before you and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. He owes that to you. He owes it to his colleagues, and he owes it to his constituents,” he added.
Smith has insisted he is innocent, but Henderson has said Smith could jeopardize his criminal case if he were to testify before the House panel.
Henderson said, without the power to subpoena witnesses, the panel has nothing to base its judgment on, except for unproved allegations contained in the indictment.
“The people of Illinois would be better served to hear that, ‘Yes, we heard the evidence, and then we decided,’ as opposed to ‘We decided, because somebody’s pressuring us to move forward and make a decision prior to the election, so we can take Derrick Smith’s seat.’ What’s the rush?”