Former Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan joined generations of indicted Chicago politicians before him Wednesday when he pleaded not guilty to federal criminal charges, kicking off what could be a yearslong court battle.
But perhaps most notable about Madigan’s arraignment is what didn’t happen. There was no walk of shame. No swarm of media. No awkward moment of silence in the courtroom while Madigan, lawyers and reporters waited for the judge to take the bench.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were only voices on the phone. But not Madigan’s. A lawyer entered the plea on Madigan’s behalf during the telephone call that featured scratchy audio and judges and lawyers talking over each other.
Madigan was not heard during the call. His co-defendant, Michael McClain, had trouble getting on the line but later apologized to the judge, calling himself “electronically challenged.” McClain’s lawyer also entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.
The next hearing in the case has been set for April 1 before U.S. District Judge John Blakey.
Madigan’s arraignment came two years after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted the federal courts along with the rest of daily life. It also largely put a halt to a ritual faced by scores of politicians before Madigan: The stroll through the lobby of the Dirksen Federal Courthouse on the way to see the judge.
Instead, defendants charged in federal court now have the option of a remote arraignment. And many have taken it, including several who have faced public corruption charges since 2020.
But none had the profile of Madigan, whose in-person arraignment likely would have been on par with those of ex-U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert or former Govs. Rod Blagojevich and George Ryan.
Hastert trusted his lawyers to lead him through a media swarm when he was forced to visit the courthouse for arraignment in June 2015, not long after he was accused of paying hush money to cover up sexual misconduct. Two national news reporters wound up in hot water with the chief judge for breaking rules at the courthouse that day.
A similar reception greeted Blagojevich when he arrived for an arraignment in April 2009. But unlike Hastert, Blagojevich began answering questions shouted by reporters, allowing the mob to move in around him to the point he barely had room to walk.
Ryan faced arraignment a few days before Christmas in 2003 and wound up asking a little girl if she was “ready for Santa” on his way to the courtroom. The startled girl said nothing as she got on a separate elevator.
Now, Madigan has joined them as one of the most significant Illinois politicians to face criminal charges, even though he left office more than a year ago. Known as the “Velvet Hammer” for his quiet but forceful use of power, the Southwest Side Democrat had held his seat in the state House of Representatives since 1971 and served as speaker for all but two years between 1983 and 2020.
Similar to a separate November 2020 indictment of McClain and others, Madigan’s indictment alleges that Madigan and McClain sought jobs, contracts and money for Madigan’s associates from ComEd between 2011 and 2019 and that Madigan took official action to help ComEd pass favorable legislation.
But it also alleged other schemes involving former longtime Ald. Danny Solis (25th). It notes that Solis worked undercover for the FBI, “a fact that was unknown to the defendants prior to in or around January 2019.” That’s when the Chicago Sun-Times exclusively revealed his cooperation, as well as the investigation of Solis’ activities that led to it. The Sun-Times also exclusively reported then that Madigan had been recorded by the feds during a 2014 meeting.
The investigation that led to Madigan’s indictment goes back to the same year, court records show.
The indictment alleged that Madigan agreed to help Solis land a spot on a state board paying at least $93,926 a year following Solis’ retirement from the City Council. During a meeting Aug. 2, 2018, Madigan allegedly told Solis he would help Solis land the spot by going to J.B. Pritzker, who is identified in the indictment as the then “future Governor of the State of Illinois.”
Madigan allegedly told Solis, “you’d come in as [Pritzker’s] recommendation.” Madigan and Pritzker met on Dec. 4, 2018, according to the indictment.
U.S. Attorney John Lausch stressed last week that “there’s no allegation in this indictment against the governor or his staff.” A Pritzker spokeswoman said Pritzker does not recall Madigan ever asking him to consider Solis for any position.
The indictment also alleged that Madigan agreed to help with the transfer of a Chinatown property from the state to the city, to help clear the way for a developer’s proposal, in exchange for business for his firm, Madigan & Getzendanner.
The Sun-Times first reported on the scheme in March 2019.
Solis allegedly told McClain around Dec. 18, 2017, that, “in the past, I have been able to steer some work to Mike, and these guys will do the same thing.” McClain then allegedly agreed that Madigan would assist with the property’s transfer.