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.

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Genson has certainly grown rich off the inexhaustible supply of political corruption in town. The driver’s-licenses-for-bribes probe, for example, is in its eighth year. Genson has defended most of the key players-arguing that they did nothing wrong-from the Melrose Park driver’s license station manager, Mary Ann Mastrodomenico, in the early days, to Ryan’s helpful inspector general, Dean Bauer, the cover-upper who has already served his year and a day. More recently, Genson handled the defense of Scott Fawell, the mastermind schemer who was convicted last year and sentenced to six and a half years.

Now Fawell has flipped and agreed to testify for the prosecution, but don’t expect Genson to encourage his client, Larry War­ner, to settle. Genson hates to settle. When a client lawyers up with Eddie, it usually means he’s going to fight to the proverbial death. “I’m rotten at getting deals,” Genson says. “I don’t like begging. I don’t like negotiating. I like saying, ‘Let’s go!’”

Genson is particularly eager to get going on the Ryan-Warner trial, having worked an estimated 5,000 hours on the case over the past four years. But Ryan has chosen Dan Webb to represent him, and Webb is in the midst of a tobacco trial in Washington, D.C., that promises to keep him busy for months. Genson says Webb might be the best lawyer in the country, but there is something unsatisfying about giving Webb top billing in this trial. Genson has been slogging it out with Safe Roads prosecutors from the start; it’s as if he had earned a certain ownership of the defense proceedings. He has already had to fight to stay on the case (in fact, that’s what he had to do in his court appearance following the R. Kelly hearing). Prosecutors say that Genson essentially knows too much because of his prior representation of Fawell, who is expected to testify for the first six weeks of the trial as the government’s chief witness. It isn’t the first time prosecutors have tried to get Genson disqualified from Safe Roads cases, given the number of clients he’s had who were charged in the investigation. So far, though, he has survived every challenge.

Still, the hearing about his staying on the Ryan-Warner case was anything but routine. For one thing, tensions flashed between Genson and his Safe Roads nemesis, federal prosecutor Patrick Collins. When Genson complained about the time it had taken to prepare his case, Collins snapped, “There’s a very easy solution: Don’t take so many clients.”

Later in the hearing, Collins was moved by a Genson argument to tell him, “One thing I admire about you-you’re sincere in your disingenuousness.”

“It’s true,” Genson replied. “I am sincere.”

Then Genson accused the prosecutors of being disingenuous. “The fact is, they object to me,” he argued to U.S. District Court judge Rebecca Pallmeyer. When Collins suggested that the other lawyers in Genson’s firm should be kept out of the case, too, so Genson couldn’t provide behind-the-scenes help preparing for Fawell’s testimony, Genson exclaimed, “I’m extremely insulted!”

Pallmeyer kept Genson and his firm on the case, but the parties agreed that another lawyer would cross-examine Fawell. All for the best, Genson told the court. “[Fawell’s] my friend,” he said, “and when he gets on that witness stand, I’ll be lucky not to cry.”

Later, I asked Genson how he felt about seeing Fawell turn state’s evidence (reportedly in exchange for getting his fiancée a lighter sentence for her role in various schemes she took part in when she worked for him). “He could’ve done it a long time ago,” Genson said, after carefully considering the question. “I wouldn’t have had to waste four months of my life. I wouldn’t have had to waste all that time, and blow out my back, and go through the pain I went through.” He paused a couple of beats before adding, “I like Fawell, that’s my problem. It’s hard for me to say something negative about him.”

In some ways, Genson’s defense of War­ner may resemble his defense of Fawell: namely, that prosecutors have changed the rules of the game by turning political favors into criminal acts without announcing that the old ways are no longer acceptable. It’s a defense he’s been using for years.

When the mobbed-up power brokers of the old First Ward were tried in the early 1990s, Genson told a jury, “This case does not involve fixes. It’s about old men brought up in a different system. It involves favors that are clearly political, but not against the law. That’s all politics is-favors. This, ladies and gentlemen, is old-time politics.”

I asked Genson how he could really believe that.

“The laws governing federal prosecution are so nebulous, they’re so general, that what is a crime to one United States attorney is not a crime to another,” he said. “And what this [U.S. attorney] is doing is taking a political favor and elevating it to a crime. And nobody knew that was a crime. Now, Fawell took a little bit of leeway-a little, but not much. And every one of the things he was indicted for-political people getting state jobs, people on state jobs doing political things while they’re on state jobs-this is not a new thing. The fact is, he did what everyone else did.”

I reminded Genson that the way things have always worked includes a steady pattern of indictments for business-as-usual.

“No!” he bellowed. “No! Because nobody’s ever been indicted for that! Nobody’s ever been indicted for doing that in Illinois. Oh, yeah, political corruption trials where people take money-I mean, all you gotta do to know that’s illegal is to read the Ten Commandments! But if you sit in your state office and make a bunch of phone calls to the ward committeemen to get their vote, that’s been done forever!”


At a very young age, Ed Genson found his place in the world. His father, a Russian Jew who raised his family in Lawndale, was a bail bondsman. As a boy of seven or eight, Eddie would tag along while his father made his rounds of the Cook County criminal courthouse, home to a gritty bonanza of Chicago characters with names such as Short Pencil Romanoff, Fat Charlie Cohen, Skinny McDonald, and Benny the Jew. Eddie was enthralled. “It was like the Guys and Dolls of Chicago,” he recalls. He would sell coffee and sweet rolls to the prisoners in lockup, and then wander through the courthouse looking for interesting cases-and interesting lawyers-to watch. He devoured old lawbooks and trial transcripts that his father, who was also a precinct captain, collected from his lawyer pals. He had an early sense of identity. “From the beginning, I wanted to be me,” Genson says. “I just always wanted to be what I am.”

After high school (Marshall, class of ‘62), Genson majored in political science at Northwestern University; then he attended law school there. The first lawbook he cracked detailed a police brutality case involving two Chicago police officers. He says he realized, “Those guys have been coming to my house since I was six!” They knew his father. (While in law school, Genson also met and married his wife, Susan. They live in Deerfield and have three children and five grandchildren.)




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.

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