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Lang withdraws from gaming bill sponsorship

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

* Rockford Register Star reporter Isaac Guerrero heard last night (as did I) that Rep. Lou Lang had withdrawn his sponsorship from the gaming bill. The withdrawal was apparently no coincidence

It was late Monday evening when I learned of this turn of events. Hours earlier I had asked Rockford City Legal Director Patrick Hayes if there was any connection between Rockford’s inclusion in the gaming bill and the city’s employment of the law firm that Lang works for.

Lang is of counsel at Odelson and Sterk, which the city hired last summer to handle some of its worker’s compensation legal matters. The city actually hired two firms to do the work, Odelson and Sterk based in Evergreen Park and Heyl Royster based here in Rockford.

Hayes said there’s no connection between the city’s casino bid and the City Council’s decision last year to hire Odelson and Sterk. Moreover, Hayes said, Lang doesn’t handle any of the city’s worker’s compensation matters. That work is handled by two of Odelson and Sterk’s other attorneys – Michael Stillman and Burt Odelson.

Eight law firms submitted bids last year to provide the city legal representation with respect to worker’s compensation matters. Odelson and Sterk, Hayes told me, did not submit the lowest bid. But when it comes to certain professional services, especially legal services, qualifications, experience and performance of the bidder are often more important to the city than lowest cost. That was the case with this bid, Hayes said.

* The Sun-Times followed up

Lang also defended the timing to withdraw as sponsor of the gambling bill, even though the connection Odelson and Sterk had with Rockford dated back to last summer.

“This is the time I felt was appropriate. I think you know that in all the legislation I’ve ever had in gaming going back 20 years, I’ve had Rockford in the bill. There’s nothing new here,” Lang said.

Lang didn’t waver when pressed why he didn’t object to the decision by the law firm that employs him to solicit business from a town covered by his gambling-expansion legislation.

“I have violated no ethical rules, and so I’ll send you this piece of paper,” he said, referring to the letter to Madigan, announcing his recusal from the legislation. “I don’t want to discuss it further. That’s my public comment.”

* Lang’s withdrawal letter

It was recently brought to my attention that there may be a perceived conflict of interest between the law firm of which I am of counsel and my sponsorship of the gaming bill because a client of the firm has an interest that could be impacted by the passage of the proposed legislation.

To be clear, the law firm’s work for the client has no relation whatsoever to any gaming legislation. Additionally, I do no legal work for this client, and I receive no compensation from their relationship with the firm. My actions as an attorney and/or a member of the General Assembly have been, at every moment, completely appropriate and totally respectful of all applicable laws and ethical rules. There have been no violations of any kind.

Lang has, indeed, supported a Rockford casino for a very long time. And “of counsel” means he’s not a partner in the firm, so, as he said, he didn’t share in any profits.

But with all the heat on this bill (some of it contrived, some of it legit), withdrawal was a wise move.

Rep. Bob Rita is the new sponsor.

- Posted by Rich Miller        


16 Comments
  1. - Anonymous - Tuesday, May 21, 13 @ 2:24 pm:

    Gaming is a giant ethical minefield and Lou Lang has a rather big blind spot where ethics are concerned (certainly on perception of conflicts). This isn’t remotely surprising.


  2. - Snucka - Tuesday, May 21, 13 @ 2:26 pm:

    Interesting. Has to be disappointing for proponents of the bill to go from Lang to a much weaker sponsor in Rita.


  3. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, May 21, 13 @ 2:26 pm:

    ===certainly on perception of conflicts===

    The problem with “perception” of anything is that it varies with the perceiver. You can twist just about anything to allege a perception of a conflict.


  4. - El tercero - Tuesday, May 21, 13 @ 2:32 pm:

    Lang can now focus on making sure payday lenders get a fair shake from the state. He’s such a good advocate for them.


  5. - The Captain - Tuesday, May 21, 13 @ 2:38 pm:

    If the bill were to come to the floor with Rockford in it would he be able to vote for/against the bill or would he have to vote present?


  6. - Nickypiii - Tuesday, May 21, 13 @ 2:55 pm:

    Lou understands that there might be a perception of conflict and did the right thing. He wouldn’t want to jeopardize this important legislation.


  7. - walkinfool - Tuesday, May 21, 13 @ 3:28 pm:

    Lou’s disentangling himself from anything that might be used against him in his positioning for
    the Speakership, if MJM moves out.

    Just a random thought. I’m often wrong on such.


  8. - Anon - Tuesday, May 21, 13 @ 4:09 pm:

    If the facts have not changed how does the public’s new awareness of the facts create a perception problem?


  9. - Anonymous - Tuesday, May 21, 13 @ 4:48 pm:

    =The problem with “perception” of anything is that it varies with the perceiver. You can twist just about anything to allege a perception of a conflict.=

    I really don’t want to get involved in this discussion, but since the other Anonymous missed it, I thought I’d mention it. I believe the correct term within the legal context is “perception of impropriety.”


  10. - Plutocrat03 - Tuesday, May 21, 13 @ 4:48 pm:

    Smart move because it is more than a perception .


  11. - Publius - Tuesday, May 21, 13 @ 5:55 pm:

    Odelson & Sterk also represents calumet city. One of the leading southeast suburb communities for a casino. Coincidence Lang was hired by Odelson?


  12. - Capitol View - Tuesday, May 21, 13 @ 7:32 pm:

    with all the nonsense that Blago and others have done, is this even worth muttering about? Almost every big firm lawyer probably has overlapping interests with half the bills that come before the General Assembly.

    Either we go with a full time legislature, or pseudo conflicts like this need to be ignored.


  13. - lake county democrat - Wednesday, May 22, 13 @ 7:28 am:

    There’s no ambiguity about the conflict of interest here - unless you want to argue that winning boatloads of money for your employer has no personal value (even without a formal quid-pro-quo that your employer will reward you with other work or benefits). Capitol View is right - there’s conflicts all over the place - we and the media have simply been beaten down to accept them.


  14. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, May 22, 13 @ 8:57 am:

    ===There’s no ambiguity about the conflict of interest here===

    Oh, please. That’s ridiculous. Capitol View was absolutely right when he called this a “pseudo conflict.”


  15. - wordslinger - Wednesday, May 22, 13 @ 10:08 am:

    Here’s my perception, based on reality.

    Lang has pushed for a Rockford casino for 20 years.

    Last year, a law firm he does work for got a Rockford contract.

    20 - 1 = 19.

    If waiting around 19 years for a contract is supposed to represent a quid pro quo, my perception is that Lang isn’t very good at leveraging his office for business.


  16. - Dingo - Wednesday, May 22, 13 @ 1:47 pm:

    With or without Lang, this legislation needs to be passed. IL needs the revenue it would generate and the residents of IL definitely need the jobs it would provide.


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