Prosecutors object to proposed defense expert on lobbying in ComEd bribery case | Illinois

(The Center Square) – Prosecutors don’t want an expert on lobbying to testify for the defense in a bribery case involving four former ComEd executives and lobbyists.

Jay Doherty, a former ComEd consultant and former City Club president, has pleaded “not guilty” to conspiracy, bribery, and willfully falsifying ComEd books and records along with former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, former lobbyist and state lawmaker Michael McClain and former ComEd lobbyist John Hooker. 

Prosecutors allege the four participated in a corrupt scheme for years to reward former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan with jobs, contracts and payments in exchange for help with legislation in Springfield that would affect the state’s largest electric utility company.

Doherty wants to call Lee Drutman, a senior fellow at a think-tank and the author of a book on lobbying, to explain the purpose of lobbyists and the ways lobbyists influence politicians. 

Prosecutors criticized that request in their latest legal filing as the trial gets underway more than two years after the four defendants were first indicted in November 2020.

“The focus of Drutman’s proposed testimony – the basics of lobbying – resembles the principles taught in a high school civics class,” prosecutors argued in a motion that seeks to exclude or limit the testimony. “The jury will be familiar with the general notion of how a bill becomes a law and how various political and non-political actors influence that process based on the government’s fact witnesses, which will include current and former legislators and lobbyists.”

Doherty had proposed calling Drutman to explain to the jury that lobbyists are hired for many reasons, including “building relationships to gain access to politicians and their staff, providing education and information regarding the political process, providing education and information with respect to political decision makers, and attempting to influence political decision makers.”

In addition to his previous role at the City Club, Doherty was the owner of Jay D. Doherty & Associates, which consulted for ComEd from 2011 to 2019, according to court records.

The prosecutors’ motion comes after Judge Harry Leinenweber ruled that they couldn’t call an expert witness to explain how machine politics work in Chicago.

Leinenweber said the jury doesn’t need an explanation and that a detailed history of the corruption of the Chicago political machine could prejudice the jury regarding the four defendants.

“The Court does not find that the subject of this proposed testimony is so enigmatic to require expert testimony,” Leinenweber wrote in that ruling. “Neither does the Court see how testimony of the history of the Chicago Machine helps the jury determine a fact at issue in this present case. The Court does see, however, how emphasizing the history of corruption and election fraud that marked the early years of the machine could prejudice defendants.”

The judge has yet to rule on the prosecution’s motion to exclude or limit Drutman’s testimony. 

On Wednesday, prosecutors and defense attorneys provided their opening statements to the jury in the case at the Everett McKinley Dirksen United States Courthouse in Chicago.

The trial is expected to last six to eight weeks. Prosecutors plan to call up to 70 witnesses at trial. 

Madigan served in the Illinois House from 1971 to 2021. He served as speaker of the Illinois House from 1983 to 1995 and again from 1997 to 2021. He wielded additional power as chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois. Madigan, who resigned after losing the House speakership in January 2021, has been charged with 23 counts of racketeering, bribery and official misconduct in a separate case that could go to trial in April 2024. He has pleaded “not guilty.”

ComEd, the state’s largest electric utility, agreed to pay $200 million in July 2020 to resolve a criminal investigation into the years-long bribery scheme. As part of a deferred prosecution agreement, ComEd admitted it arranged jobs, vendor subcontracts and payments in a bid to influence Madigan.

This article First appeared in the center square

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