When former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert appears in court Thursday for the first time since his indictment, he’ll stand before a judge who twice contributed to his campaign fund, and whose brother is the top Republican in the Illinois House.
Now U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin — who once wrote that a judge’s most important attribute is “fairness” — will have to decide if he’s the right man to handle the case.
Hastert has not been seen in public since being charged last week for violating banking laws and lying to the FBI about hush money payoffs sources say were tied to alleged sexual misconduct decades ago. He and his wife, Jean, have a home in Plano and a 403-acre farm on the Mississippi River bluffs near Prairie Du Chien, Wis.
His appearance at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in the South Loop is likely to be brief. He will be officially informed of the charges against him and asked to enter a plea. But the sight of a former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in a federal courtroom is likely to draw swarms of media and curious spectators.
No lawyer has spoken up on behalf of the Illinois Republican, and no formal appearances have been filed in federal court. But one document filed Monday identified Hastert’s attorney as Barry Levine.
The document did not make clear whether it’s the same Levine who works for the Washington D.C.-based law firm Dickstein Shapiro where Hastert served as a lobbyist until last week. Neither Levine nor the firm’s spokesman has responded to requests for comment.
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The case against Hastert stems from $1.7 million in cash payments Hastert allegedly made to a man to conceal sexual misconduct that allegedly occurred sometime between 1965 and 1981, when he was a high school teacher and wrestling coach in Yorkville.
While some criminal defendants are immediately hauled into court, Hastert’s arraignment will take place a week after federal authorities unveiled the stunning indictment against him. The case was swiftly assigned to Durkin, who was confirmed by the Senate in December 2012 — making it to the federal bench on his second try.
Federal Election Commission contribution records show that Durkin donated as a lawyer in private practice to Hastert’s congressional campaign while Hastert was House speaker. While working for Mayer Brown in the Loop, Durkin gave $1,000 to Hastert’s campaign on June 29, 2004, and $500 on June 26, 2002.
The Durkin donations to Hastert’s election war chest were first reported by Politico. They are not the judge’s only contributions to Republicans.
Durkin donated $500 to the Indiana Republican State Committee on May 12, 2006. And between 2006 and 2008 he donated $4,300 to political funds associated with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the 2008 Republican presidential nominee.
One of Durkin’s seven brothers is Jim Durkin, who became the Illinois House Republican leader on Oct. 22, 2013.Jim Durkin was McCain’s Illinois state chairman when McCain ran for president in 2000 and 2008.
In turn, McCain supported Jim Durkin when he ran for Senate in 2002 against Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. Thomas Durkin also donated $2,000 to his brother’s failed Senate bid.
By 2009, Thomas Durkin wanted to become a federal judge. He submitted his application to Durbin on May 8, 2009, according to a questionnaire reviewed by the Sun-Times that Durkin completed for the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Following an interview by Durbin and his selection committee, Durkin’s name joined others on a list for consideration by President Barack Obama. Durkin was not picked.
Meanwhile, Durkin provided pro bono assistance to the Illinois House Impeachment Committee scrutinizing then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich after he was indicted on federal corruption charges, according to Durkin’s questionnaire.
Jim Durkin in 2008-2009 was the ranking Republican on that panel.
Thomas Durkin made another bid for a federal judgeship on March 18, 2011, sending his application to Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill.
When Obama ultimately nominated Durkin for the federal bench, Sens. Durbin and Kirk made the announcement together.
During Durkin’s Senate confirmation proceedings, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., submitted several written questions, including “What is the most important attribute of a judge, and do you possess it?”
Durkin wrote in reply: “A judge’s most important attribute is fairness.
“Encompassed in fairness is the ability to follow controlling precedent, treating litigants and lawyers with respect, being patient, being humble, and keeping an open mind. I believe I possess these attributes.”