Devils’ Advocate

From our March 2005 issue: To people accused of doing bad things—embezzling millions, bribing judges, putting a bullet in someone’s head—Ed Genson may be the go-to lawyer in town. For years the Mob had him on speed dial. And pols in trouble (including Larry Warner, Governor Ryan’s friend and codefendant) regularly sign up with him. He’s cunning, funny, sometimes outrageous—a master of the cross examination. But what matters most to his clients: He’ll do (almost) anything to win.

(page 2 of 5)



Edward Marvin Genson is one of the best criminal defense lawyers-if not the best-in the city. More than that, though, Genson has become one of those oversize figures whose work represents a larger proposition: His cases tell the story of a certain slice of Chicago culture in the past three decades. Consider: Genson’s cases have ranged from the old mobbed-up First Ward of Pat Marcy and Fred Roti to the criminal enterprise known as the Secretary of State’s Office under George Ryan and Scott Fawell; from the burning of the West Side after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. to the vicious beating of Lenard Clark; from the wild sex trial of former U.S. congressman Mel Reynolds to the aforementioned saga of R. Kelly; from mass commodities fraud on the floors of the Chicago Board of Trade and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange to alleged corporate corruption at politically influential companies such as Intercounty Title. Operations Greylord, Gambat, Silver Shovel, Haunted Hall, and Safe Roads-Genson has watched them all unfold from the best vantage point a city like Chicago has to offer: the defense table. “There’s probably not a significant criminal prosecution in Chicago-a really significant one-in the last 20 years that Eddie has not had a client in,” Zopp says.

He also has that final ingredient necessary to be a legend around here: He’s an authentic Chicago character.


“Send this man back home to his family!” Genson implored the jury, making a sweeping gesture toward the woman and three children in the front row of the courtroom gallery. He had just wound up what would become perhaps his best-known closing argument. Best known because the man Genson was defending wasn’t married. Genson had planted the woman and children. He won.

Like most oft-told Genson stories, the beauty of this one isn’t just in the humor, but in the larger truth it tells about him. In this case, that he will do (almost) anything to win-and do it with wit and wile. He tells this particular story as often as other people do. “The great thing about Eddie stories is that no one tells them better than Eddie,” says the lawyer and writer Scott Turow, who has worked with Genson and against him. “Eddie loves to play the lovable rogue. He’s probably better at it than anyone else.”

By various accounts, Genson’s best bit of courtoom theatre features a recurring idiosyncrasy-his limp gets worse during a trial, the better to gain the sympathy of a jury. Genson has encouraged that analysis, but Turow says the truth runs deeper. “When he gets under stress, his symptoms do get much worse,” says Turow. “So when he starts trying cases, he is limping more because he’s in more pain. But he’s such a wily bullshit artist that, rather than let people know that he was actually in pain, Eddie for many years had the assistants in the U.S. Attorney’s Office believing that he was just limping more to excite the jury’s sympathies. And that’s what I mean by burnishing his own legend. By point of fact, the guy was suffering, but he didn’t want his opponents to know that it was physically hard on him, because then maybe they would extend a three-week trial to four weeks.”

Turow tells two stories from a case he worked on in his days as an assistant U.S. attorney that illustrate Genson’s pure love of the game. “We were trying a Hillside police officer and his confederates for an automobile insurance scam,” Turow recalls. “They pretended that a car had been stolen. They collected the insurance money and then sold the car, so it was the double dip. They were ultimately convicted.” Genson was defending the car’s owner, who was in on the scam, but at one point Genson put the Hillside police chief through a Columbo-like cross-examination. “Instead of making the police chief look like the fool, Eddie made himself look like the fool,” Turow says. “He pushed all the buttons, acted like the monkey, and of course made the jury fall in love with him by appearing so buffoonish. It was a complete success at every level, including making the police chief look like a self-important idiot. Eddie finished and, you know, Eddie’s got a disability. Notwithstanding that, he did a bow like Sir Walter Raleigh. He literally crossed his legs, bowed fully from the waist, and swept his hand down, as if he was moving his hat with a feather. It was just an unbelievable moment.”

After the supposed theft, the car’s owner had been spotted driving it by an honest young Hillside police officer. Turow put the officer on the stand and asked if he recognized the car owner in the courtroom. The man was sitting next to Genson at the defense table. “[The officer] looks across the courtroom and says, ‘No,’” Turow recalls. “I’m devastated. So we get a break and I said to Eddie, ‘I can’t believe this. You’re gonna win this goddamn case!’ And Eddie says, ‘Are you kidding me? That’s the best thing that could have ever happened to you! You’re gonna tell the jury, ‘Now, here’s a guy who was a cop for X number of years. You think he doesn’t know where the defendant is sitting? He knows where he is. But he’s too honest a guy even to lie about the fact that he can’t remember this man.’ And, you know, he was absolutely right. That’s what I argued, and we won the case. It was just typical of Eddie. Now, if he had thought that I wasn’t gonna think of that, he never would have said anything. But he knew me well enough to know that once I got over my shock about this turn of events, I was gonna recognize that I was actually in good shape. He was just comforting me! It was kind of an avuncular thing.”

Although Jeffrey Steinback, a former partner in Genson & Gillespie and close associate, has described Genson as an “unfed tiger . . . [whose] cases are huge pieces of raw steak,” Genson’s collegial attitude with his opponents in court may reflect his sense that he’s in a good business. When other lawyers were complaining a few years ago about the aggressiveness of the new U.S. attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald, Genson-who charges about $700 an hour-couldn’t have been happier. “He’s going to make defense lawyers a fortune,” he predicted.

 Photograph: Tom Maday



6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

December 17, 2008

Our comment is addressed to the Republicans, especially, to Illnois Republican Representative, Michael Madigan; that is, we know the true and real reasons why you and other Republicans want governor Blagojevich removed/impeached from his governor position. We know that you Republicans want the opportunity to gain this governor seat and the senator seat for you Republicans' and for you Republicans' benefit. You Republicans' want to continue the massive and profusive spendings for the rich; and you Republicans want to continue your destruction against the abjected/abandoned poor, the degraded middle-classes who have been subjected to a starving level; and you Republicans want to continue the corruption and destruction you have waged against the poor American people, the middle-classes of American people and the ravishing poor/abjected people of the world. We know many things are not correct about Blagojevich; however, you cannot convict a man from talking.

Blagojevich was just only running off with his mouth; however, he has not committed a crime yet; he did not execute the act; and you Republicans know that you cannot convict a man for just talking.

You Republicans think that you are above the laws of this country and the world; and you Republicans think that you are above God's laws but we have news for you that you are not above the laws of this country, especially, not of God's laws. If you Republicans had better let the people of the United States of America decide whether Blagojevich should be removed from his governor's office/seat or not, not you Republicans. You Republicans cannot judge anyone because of the conditions and states you have put America in, the people of the United States of America, and the world. You Republicans are a disgrace to all humans (humankinds) in the world. If you Republicans impeach Blagojevich on the evidence you have you will be committing another crime in addition to all of your other crimes you have committed against the American people and the world since the establishment of your corrupt party. You Republican had better go and read you law books again; and you Republican had better enroll in some Law school for the Spring Semester of 2009. You Republican had better do what is right for a change because the American people are watching you; and the American people are tired of your criminal acts. The American people will overthrow you just like they voted you Republicans out of office in November 2008.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

To the commentor below: Mike Madigan is a Democrat - not a Republican. The Governor's political affiliation has nothing to do with the charges pending against him. I am a Democrat but I am willing to admit this.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

to anon 17dec08:

The fact that the man in question is a Dem, and has been in this position for some time now, and you are implicating exclusively the Rep Party for various wrong doings..absolutely removes your entire statement of any serious credibility. The fact that you do not recognize the problems at hand are shared among two parties, and in this case the man behind the wheel was a Dem, makes your statements blind and ignorant. And I don't mean those words to insult, it's just a shame because many people think the way you do.
And for the record, I am nor a Rep or a Dem.

The day enough Americans realize that govt should be limited and controlled is the day we will truly become free. The individual is more powerful than the state, when all the individuals accept their responsibility.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Addressed to the 2:14pm posting, as the 8:35pm posting author stated Michael Madigan is a Democrat. Madigan, as well as all of the Assistant Majority House Leaders (all Dems, of course) have not gotten along with the Gov. almost since his 1st term.

As to the second flawed pointed in the 2:14pm posting, (being that I will not comment on someone else's opinion) the Gov actually CAN be convicted of "talking" or "running his mouth." To be exact, if one party (individual) is "talking" with another party about the commission a criminal act (such as selling the U.S. Senate seat), they may both be convicted of Conspiracy. Conspiracy is, by definition, the discussion between two or more individuals regarding the commission of a criminal act. If that criminal act is actually carried out or reasonably attempted, then the individuals involved could (and in most cases, are) charged with conspiracy (to commit a criminal act) as well as the charge corresponding to the criminal act.

In summation, most individuals of both political parties and in the Senate and House are not big fans of the Gov. This being largely due to the Gov.'s overuse of his veto pen in instances such as buget approval. Furthermore, while the Gov. is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law (not in a court of public opinion), it is certainly plausable that he may certainly be charged with conspiracy for "talking" and even convicted of this offense. However, I personally know the Gov.'s attorneys (Ed Genson and Sam Adam, Jr.) and can say with utmost confidence that if the Gov. has even the slightest chance of receiving a "not guilty" verdict, it rests soley with these two attorneys.

- Democrat D

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Is he one of the lawyers that Obama hired to get the birth certificate law suits thrown out ? If not he may be after a few more suits get filed. G-Rod will get off and a staff member will take the fall. Just like Obama, G-Rod is never directly involved , or he wasnt aware, or he didnt know, or he wasnt told etc etc etc... You people in Chicago keep electing these types so you seem to enjoy the DRAMA. Throw Jesse Jr into the mix and you got the 3 stooges from Chicago. Too funny- Illinois is the laughing stock of the nation.

Submit your comment