The property tax appeal firm co-founded by now-indicted former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan quietly has rebranded itself, stripping his name from its legal masthead as he awaits trial on bribery and racketeering charges.
The clout-laden Madigan & Getzendanner law firm is no more after nearly 50 years as the place Chicago’s mighty and powerful went to have their property tax bills slashed.
Its website is dead, and paperwork filed with Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias’ office in June legally renamed the firm, Holland Hicks Law. That company is headed by two long-time Madigan & Getzendanner partners, Jeffrey Holland and Harold Hicks.
Vincent “Bud” Getzendanner, who co-founded Madigan & Getzendanner with the ex-speaker in 1972 and is not facing charges, notified the firm’s more than 500 clients of the changeover in a mid-July letter.
“I believe this transition is an important and necessary step that will ensure our clients continue to receive the highest quality of representation,” Getzendanner wrote.
Getzendanner’s letter made no mention of Madigan or the fact the ex-speaker is facing a 23-count bribery and racketeering indictment and is due to stand trial at the Dirksen Federal Building next April.
Those charges are focused on Madigan’s time running Springfield and on his alleged efforts to illegally drum up work for Madigan & Getzendanner.
For decades, the law firm profited from the political star power Madigan had as speaker to attract commercial developers big and small to his property tax appeal business as Chicago’s downtown skyline filled with tower cranes and continued to expand upward.
A 2017 analysis by Reuters showed Madigan & Getzendanner won $63.3 million in property tax refunds for clients with property in Cook County between 2004 and 2015 — money that local governments ordinarily could have used to put more teachers in classrooms, fill potholes and add city cops to the street.
In 2015, Madigan’s practice ranked second among law firms in total property tax refunds, according to the Reuters’ analysis of data from Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas’s office.
Later in 2017, a report by the Chicago Tribune ranked Madigan & Getzendanner as the No. 1 law firm of its kind in the city in terms of the overall value of property tax assessments it was attempting to reduce.
The Tribune analysis found that between 2011 and 2016, the firm secured reductions of 20 percent from the initial values of their clients’ properties, totaling nearly $1.7 billion.
Madigan stepped away from Madigan & Getzendanner in March 2022, but the state Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission lists Madigan as still being eligible to practice law in Illinois.
Madigan’s departure from the firm coincided with his initial indictment, which focused partly on instances in which Madigan allegedly sought former Chicago Ald. Danny Solis’s help in gaining property tax appeal work for Madigan & Getzendanner. In exchange, the indictment alleged, Madigan offered to help Solis win a high-paying appointment to a state board —–- an appointment that never materialized.
Madigan & Getzendanner was identified 20 times in the indictment but was never charged with criminal wrongdoing.
Federal prosecutors later charged Madigan in a superseding indictment for allegedly muscling AT&T Illinois to give a no-work, $22,500 consulting contract to former state Rep. Edward Acevedo, a Madigan ally, in a bid to help pass company legislation. AT&T Illinois agreed to pay a $23 million fine and enter into a deferred prosecution agreement with the Justice Department to set aside a criminal charge of using an interstate facility to promote legislative misconduct.
Holland, a partner in the newly named Holland Hicks Law firm, told WBEZ the “branding change” had been “in the works for some time.”
He said he and his partner, Harold Hicks, were both Madigan & Getzendanner lawyers for over 20 years apiece and “are grateful for our clients’ trust.”
Northwestern University marketing professor Timothy Calkins compared the decision to retire the Madigan & Getzendanner brand with another branding crisis three decades ago that captured national headlines.
In 1996, 110 people died when a ValuJet Airlines DC-9 crashed in the Florida Everglades after a fire broke out on the plane mid-flight. The following year, the company rebranded itself as AirTran Airways in a move aimed at papering over ValuJet’s fatal track record.
With more negative attention awaiting Madigan in his upcoming trial, his old law firm was confronted with a similar identity crisis as ValuJet, Calkins said.
“If you’re a law firm, the last thing you want is to have your brand associated with someone who’s getting lots of press and coverage for all sorts of legal troubles,” said Calkins, who studies and teaches marketing strategy and branding at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. “That’s not going to do good things for your practice. It’s not going to be great for attracting employees or for attracting clients.
“Right now, the brand, Madigan, is a pretty tarnished brand in the state of Illinois so anything you can do to move away from that is, from a branding perspective, a pretty smart idea,” he said.
Dave McKinney covers Illinois politics and government for WBEZ and was the Chicago Sun-Times’ long-time Springfield bureau chief.