Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Lisa Madigan's free ride from press continues

As somebody who worked there for eight years, I will concede up front that the Illinois Attorney General's office is a place where it's generally easy to get good press. There is a seemingly endless supply of consumer protection lawsuits and other criminal and civil actions that are brought that put the AG on the side of protecting the public.

But some of those high-profile cases also bring negative publicity as well. That is, if the press decides to ask the tough questions. Since Lisa Madigan became AG in 2003, the press has taken a vacation covering her office.
Just recently, there was another example. Copley News Service reporter Adriana Colindres revealed that the Rod Blagojevich administration gave a $500,000 no-bid legal contract to a politically connected law firm to defend against pending lawsuits related to the state's failure to open certain prisons.

The state-hired law firm, DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary, has made more than $250,000 worth of contributions to political campaign funds since 2002, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections Web site. That figure includes separate contributions of $50,000, $25,000 and $25,000 to Gov. Rod Blagojevich's political campaign fund, Friends of Blagojevich, and a combined total of $22,500 to the state Democratic Party's coffers.The law firm's legal services are needed “in anticipation of litigation related to the termination of the Grayville and Hopkins Park prison projects,” a portion of the state contract reads. “The state wishes to minimize its potential legal and financial exposure through the legal expertise of Vendor.”

The AG must approve lawyers hired by the Governor's office when those lawyers appear in court on behalf of the state. Jim Ryan on several occasions rejected the lawyers that George Ryan was trying to hire. Sometimes the reason was that the law firms were not qualified for the work, or that the work could be done in-house by the Attorney General's office, with its fleet of taxpayer-paid attorneys.

Because Rod Blagojevich is under the scrutiny of multiple federal corruption investigations, it's difficult to give him the benefit of the doubt on contracts like these.

“I'm not going to make accusations that this is pay-to-play, but I would sure suggest that it gives the appearance of impropriety,” said Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Peoria. “I mean, a $50,000 contribution from the same law firm that gave money to the governor is now being hired to represent the state? It smells.”

Colindres and Copley did a good job in uncovering the contract but nobody appears to have asked Lisa Madigan why she approved it.

You'd think the fact that the law firm gave $22,500 to the Illinois Democratic Party that her father is head of would at least prompt the question.

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