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Transcript: Madigan, ComEd bribery cases could be upended by U.S. Supreme Court ruling, defense attorneys say

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Former Speaker Mike Madigan Resigns From Illinois House

Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, walks out of Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office during veto session at the Illinois State Capitol Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016, in Springfield, Ill.

Seth Perlman/AP Photo

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision that will have implications for some of the biggest corruption cases Chicago has seen in a decade.

The high court’s ruling involved a federal bribery case out of Northwest Indiana.

And the Supreme Court’s decision has some defense attorneys predicting there will be a new trial for former Commonwealth Edison lobbyists and executives convicted of bribing ex-Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

WBEZ politics reporter Dave McKinney joined Melba Lara to break it down.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the "play" button to listen to the entire interview.

MELBA LARA: Dave, let's start with you walking us through today's Supreme Court ruling. What exactly did the court decide?

DAVE McKINNEY: Well Melba, this involves a former mayor from Portage, Indiana, who accepted $13,000 in payments from a vendor that had just gotten a valuable city contract. He was convicted of bribery and then appealed that conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court.

But the court's conservative majority today said that that bribery law only applies in cases where there's a preordained agreement, that there has to be something of value traded for official government action. So take that $13,000 payment the Portage mayor got, that was after steering city business to a contractor. The Supreme Court is saying here, getting that money after the fact isn't criminal.

ML: From what we've seen so far, it looks like the impact of this is going to extend far beyond Northwest Indiana. How does this ruling effect some of the big corruption cases that we've seen in Chicago.

DM: I mean, honestly, it could be a big deal. I covered a long trial last year that you might remember, Melba, it was the case that you mentioned earlier — the four former ComEd executives and lobbyists convicted of conspiring to bribe Madigan. Now this statute was an underpinning of that case, and even though they were found guilty, their sentencing was delayed pending this ruling. And then about a third of the roughly two dozen counts pending against Madigan, they involve the same federal bribery statute.

Now there are questions about whether the ex-speaker's scheduled trial in October goes ahead as planned because of this. It was already delayed once because of the uncertainty over how the Supreme Court was going to rule.

ML: And what have you heard from defense lawyers in the Madigan and ComEd cases?

DM: I mean, defense lawyers today, they're in an 'I told you so' kind of mood. Here's Scott Lassar, the lawyer representing convicted former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore:

(pre-recorded audio clip)

SCOTT LASSAR: The Supreme Court has made clear that what Anne Pramaggiore was charged with is not a crime.

DM: Lassar thinks charges against his client are going to have to be dismissed, and so does defense lawyer Patrick Cotter, who represents former ComEd lobbyist and Madigan adviser Michael McClain. If that happened, prosecutors would have to decide whether to recharge the case and have a new trial.

ML: And what about the U.S. Attorney's office? Have they had any response to this? And how's the ruling going to affect how they do their jobs?

DM: You know, acting U.S. Attorney Morris Pasqual's office is not commenting. But as McClain's lawyer Patrick Cotter noted, this really has potential to radically change how federal prosecutors in Chicago pursue state and local corruption cases.

(pre-recorded audio clip)

PATRICK COTTER: They're going to have to change the way they present these cases. They're going to have to change who they charge violating these crimes. So yeah, I think it's a very big deal.

DM: But look, it's been a bad week for the U.S. Attorney's office because this ruling comes on the heels of a much more lenient sentence than what the feds sought against another high profile corruption defendant, former Chicago Alderman Edward Burke. It's not clear this ruling is going to impact Burke's conviction or sentence — his lawyers aren't talking.

ML: Thanks for keeping us posted, Dave.

DM: Thanks, Melba.