* 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 Lou Lang had withdrawn his sponsorship from the gaming bill.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.