A federal judge refused on Wednesday to delay a Chicago lawmaker's bribery trial so he potentially could cast a vote to extend the Illinois income tax increase -- the latest blending of public policy, politics and a corruption case in a state with a history of official wrongdoing.
Lawyers for Rep. Derrick Smith wanted to postpone his May 28 trial, telling U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman Smith needs to be in Springfield next week, rather than a Chicago courtroom, to vote on "significant" legislation before the session ends May 31.
Coleman's ruling was more bad news for House Speaker Michael Madigan, Gov. Pat Quinn and other Democrats who've been working overtime to get enough votes to make Illinois' temporary tax hike permanent. Smith supports the measure, which Madigan said later Wednesday has barely more than half the 60 votes needed for approval in his chamber.
Smith, who did not attend the court hearing, didn't respond to requests for comment. But the notion that lawmakers might rush an important policy vote to accommodate an indicted lawmaker's trial was the subject of considerable commentary in Springfield.
"Only in Illinois could you present a scenario like that," said Rep. Jil Tracy, a Quincy Republican.
Madigan acknowledged prior to Wednesday's hearing that Smith's absence would mean "one less vote" in favor of making the tax increase permanent. His spokesman, Steve Brown, had no additional comment Wednesday.
But Brown said earlier that Madigan is used to dealing with members' personal issues, whether it's a wedding or a death in the family, and scheduling votes as needed. He said Smith's absence would be no different.
Democratic leaders have said that without the tax increase, the state will see huge cuts to schools and other areas next year. Republicans and some Democrats who oppose the tax hike say it's going back on a promise to voters that the increase would be rolled back in January.
Smith was charged in 2012 with taking a $7,000 bribe from a day care operator seeking a state grant. He was impeached that same year, but won his seat back in an election months later. He lost his March primary election, and is finishing out his current term.
Smith's lawyers asked Coleman to delay the trial until June 2. But Coleman noted she had rearranged her own tight schedule to accommodate their previous requests to change the trial date. She said the date was set at the start of the year and the defense had repeatedly assured the court that date would work.
"Mr. Smith would have known what the regular (legislative) calendar was ... when the date was set," she said.
Asked if Madigan asked Smith to make the request, attorney Sheldon Sorosky told reporters, "God no."
Smith has pleaded not guilty.