SPRINGFIELD – Illinois House members will gather today to consider something lawmakers in the state haven't done in more than a century: expel one of their own.
State Rep. Derrick Smith could be tossed out of office after federal prosecutors charged him with accepting a bribe last spring. The Chicago Democrat has pleaded not guilty. A trial date has not been set.
A vote of two-thirds, or 79 of 118 House members, is required to expel a lawmaker. A Select Committee on Discipline voted unanimously in July to find fault with Smith and 11-1 to expel him. Rep. Al Riley, D-Olympia Fields, said he believes Smith deserves a lesser punishment.
But state representatives who presented the Smith case to the select committee, including Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, argued that Smith refused opportunities to defend himself. House members have a lower standard of fault-finding than in a criminal case, Lang said.
"At no time ever has Rep. Smith denied these charges," Lang said. "He's running for election in a few months and he hasn't even said to his constituents, 'I didn't do it.' All of that worked very negatively against him."
Smith's lawyer, Victor Henderson, declined comment but announced that Smith would address the House action Friday afternoon at Henderson's Chicago office. That makes it less likely that Smith will attend the legislative action in Springfield, which will include a special session called by Gov. Pat Quinn to deal with his reform plan for state workers' pensions.
Smith, appointed to the House seat in 2011 to fill a vacancy, was arrested in March just a week before the Democratic primary election. He won handily despite federal prosecutors' charge that he accepted a $7,000 bribe from a confidential government source in exchange for what Smith thought was a letter in support of a state grant for a day care operation.
Authorities say the operation was an FBI sting and the informant was wearing a recording device.
Even in a state with a lengthy history of political shenanigans, it's been 107 years since the Illinois House stripped a colleague of his title. That happened in 1905 when Rep. Frank Comerford, D-Chicago, accused lawmakers of "wholesale corruption" but failed to produce evidence.
Comerford, however, won back his seat in the special election to fill the vacancy. Smith, too, remains on the ballot for the November election and could return to his post. If he does, the House could not vote to expel him again.