Judge takes self off Hastert case — gives lawyers option to put him back on

SHARE Judge takes self off Hastert case — gives lawyers option to put him back on
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Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert walks out of federal court after pleading not guilty during an arraignment Tuesday, June 9, 2015. | Ashlee Rezin/for Sun-Times Media

U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin doesn’t remember meeting Dennis Hastert.

The judge said he and Hastert’s son were “friendly business colleagues,” but he doesn’t consider Ethan Hastert a “personal friend.”

However, the judge did give donations totaling $1,500 while a lawyer in private practice to Dennis Hastert’s campaign. He also sent an email to a Hastert staffer in the 1990s seeking a position on the federal bench —and never heard back. And Durkin’s brother is the Republican leader of the Illinois House of Representatives.

So Durkin disqualified himself Tuesday from Hastert’s case with a twist: He gave defense lawyers and prosecutors until 4 p.m. Thursday to waive the disqualification so he could remain as the presiding judge. That deadline marks the next step in Hastert’s criminal case at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse.

If either side decides not to waive the disqualification, the record will be sealed so Durkin will not know who wanted him off the case. The waivers are to be delivered to U.S. District Court Clerk Thomas Bruton.

RELATED:Hastert answers roar of charges in hush-money case with a whisper of not guilty Brown: Hastert finally drawing crowds — and he never looked more alone

But it will be a roll of the dice for Hastert if he decides to let his case be randomly assigned to another judge. Durkin is perceived as somewhat friendly to defendants.

He could end up instead with a judge such as U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel, who has been the target of repeated criticism by defense lawyers for former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who complained that Zagel leaned heavily in favor of the prosecution.

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