Hastert and feds agree judge should stay on case

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Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert leaves federal court Tuesday. | AP

Once upon a time, an up-and-coming defense lawyer was exploring a spot on the federal bench, so he reached out to one of the most powerful Republicans in Illinois — U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

Hastert’s staff never got back to that lawyer, Thomas M. Durkin.

But today, the roles of power involving the two men are decidedly reversed.

Durkin is indeed a federal judge and now, he will oversee a case where Hastert is the defendant.

On Thursday, Hastert and federal prosecutors filed court papers giving their blessing for Durkin to preside over the case. That happened afterDurkin voluntarily recused himself on Tuesday after acknowledging that a “reasonable” person might perceive he had a conflict while overseeing Hastert’s case.

The judge noted that he gave $1,500 in donations while in private practice to Hastert’s campaign; that he worked with Hastert’s son at the Mayer Brown law firm; and that he sent an email to a Hastert staffer in the 1990s seeking a position on the federal bench — and never heard back. Durkin’s brother is also the Republican leader of the Illinois House of Representatives.

Still, the judge said: “I have no doubt I can be impartial.”

Durkin gave attorneys until 4 p.m. Thursday to waive that disqualification. Both did so in motions filed about 2 p.m. Thursday.

“We have consulted with our client, John Dennis Hastert, concerning the clerk’s notice that Judge Durkin intends to disqualify himself from the case because his impartiality might reasonably be questioned,” a filing by Hastert’s attorneys read. “We are willing to proceed forward with Judge Durkin presiding. We hereby waive this disqualification.”

Hastert pleaded not guilty during the hearing to the indictment on May 28 that charged him with skirting banking laws and lying to the FBI. The Chicago Sun-Times has previously reported that Hastert allegedly paid hush money to cover up sexual misconduct with one male student dating to Hastert’s time as a coach and teacher in Yorkville.A status hearing was set for June 18 in front of Durkin, but Hastert does not have to be in court.

Both federal prosecutors and Hastert’s defense team may have good reason to want to stay with Durkin, a former federal prosecutor. In the federal world, Thomas M. Durkin was referred to by federal agents and prosecutors as “the good Tom Durkin.” While a defense lawyer, he was known for representing individuals who cooperated with the government.

That’s opposed to defense lawyer Thomas Anthony Durkin, a longtime defense lawyer who is jokingly referred to as “the evil Tom Durkin,” for long playing an adversarial role against the government.

Still, Hastert’s attorneys were likely less inclined to roll the dice and receive a different judge; there are several in the Dirksen Federal Courthouse who are considered unfriendly to defense attorneys.

On an unrelated front in the case, two national television reporters got into hot water Thursday for allegedly violating courthouse rules for approaching Hastert for an interview outside the designated media area earlier this week when he appeared for his arraignment.

Brian Ross, ABC News chief national investigative correspondent, and Gabe Gutierrez, a NBC News correspondent based in Atlanta, are being called to appear before U.S. District Court Judge Ruben Castillo on July 28 to show cause why they shouldn’t be sanctioned for failing to follow court rules. Represenatatives for ABC News and NBC News didn’t respond to calls and emailed requests for comment Thursday night.

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