The worn wooden doors of a Cook County courtroom swing open and the legendary criminal defense attorney Eddie Genson rolls in. He’s hardly an intimidating sight; not an ounce of slickness emanates from his bearish, roly-poly, 63-year-old body. He’s riding an excruciatingly slow electric scooter, a concession he made about five years ago to a neurological disorder that makes it painful to walk.
Once in the courtroom, he still uses his signature cane to get around, and instead of standing before a jury, he’ll sit on a high wooden chair, his feet dangling above the floor. Genson’s body may hurt, but his mind is still quick and his reputation formidable, despite a long career spent defending notorious mobsters, sleazy politicians, and other generally unsavory figures. "The overwhelming majority of guys he represents are really guilty," says Andrea Zopp, a former Cook County prosecutor who now works as general counsel for Sears. "And every one of those clients has gotten a very aggressive defense. He can work miracles."
Genson rides down the aisle of the courtroom, his head bobbing slightly from his malady, affably chatting up a few folks as he makes his way to the defense table. His "Good morning"s tend to include the question "How are you feeling today?" as if everyone lived in the chronic pain he suffers from. This morning, Genson is feeling pretty good. In ten minutes, his client arrives. It’s the R&B superstar R. Kelly, a man of immense means who’s in deep trouble-the kind of person who will call Genson looking for one of those miracles. Kelly is facing 14 counts of possession of child pornography, in connection with a graphic sex video, widely circulated, in which he allegedly appears.
Today’s court date is a pretrial status hearing dominated by the question of whether prosecutors will be allowed to put a pediatrician on the stand to estimate the age of the girl in the video (authorities maintain she is a minor). Sitting at the defense table, Genson and Kelly look like the costars of a bad buddy movie. Kelly, in a perfectly tailored dark suit and slicked-back cornrows, is all scowls and knitted brow. Genson, with his scraggly beard and shaggy curls falling from the back of a balding head, is calm, even content. Until it’s time to speak. Then Genson unwinds his argument with increasing volume, demanding that the pediatrician be barred because her judgment will be "subjective." He uses the word "ridiculous" twice in his attack on the prosecutors’ stance, suggesting that jurors can make their own, commonsense estimate of the girl’s age. Knowing that prosecutors believe they know the girl’s identity and birthdate anyway, he observes sourly, "I don’t know that it takes special qualifications to read a birth certificate." In the end, the judge schedules the matter for a fuller hearing at a later date-Genson has essentially fought to a draw.
So the hobbled lawyer heads back to his office in the Monadnock Building, the lawyers’ haven on West Jackson Boulevard, to contemplate his other pressing cases. For example, in one of the largest financial scandals in recent state history, a suburban real-estate developer, Jack Hargrove, is charged in connection with the alleged embezzlement of $80 million from the politically influential Intercounty Title Company of Illinois and related companies. Genson claims that Hargrove is actually a victim, not a perp. In another spotlight case, Scott Anixter, who was previously convicted in a soybean trading scam, is scheduled to stand trial in September in an alleged $80-million corporate fraud case at Anicom, his family’s industrial wire and cable company. On the noir side of the ledger, there’s the ongoing saga of Bruno Mancari. The Mancari name is well known in the Chicago area because of the ubiquitous television and radio commercials for the south suburban auto dealerships of Bruno’s brother, Frank. Genson is defending Bruno on a federal gun possession charge, but a conviction would be a mere consolation prize for prosecutors. Two years ago, Bruno was tried in connection with the killing of a boyhood friend who wound up in a car trunk before he could tell a grand jury what he knew about a chop shop operation in which he and Bruno were allegedly involved. Frank Mancari hired a Chicago Dream Team for his brother, led by Genson and including lawyers Sam Adam, R. Eugene Pincham, and Tom Breen. The prosecution’s case fell apart when one witness changed his story and another decided at the last minute to take the Fifth. Bruno was acquitted.
More immediately, Genson has to be in federal court for a hearing tomorrow morning on behalf of dealmaker Larry Warner, a pal of former governor George Ryan. Ryan and Warner are scheduled to go on trial together in one of the most explosive cases of alleged political corruption in Illinois history. At the hearing tomorrow, prosecutors will continue their efforts to get Genson thrown off the case because he used to represent the onetime Ryan aide and protégé Scott Fawell, who is now expected to testify against his former boss. And then tomorrow afternoon, Genson is due back in state court to pick a jury in the retrial of the so-called "angel killer" Margaret DeFrancisco, a 20-year-old Pilsen resident featured on America’s Most Wanted.
Genson is also handling about a dozen other cases. It isn’t easy being a legend.
Photograph: Tom Maday
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
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.)
After a couple of low-wattage jobs (representing the government on appeals after Social Security claims had been denied; working for a firm focused on personal injury cases), Genson started his own practice, sharing office space and getting referrals from one of his friends, Sam Adam Sr. One of Adam’s friends soon became a mentor-R. Eugene Pincham, the civil rights lawyer and eventual state appellate court judge. "When I met [Genson], he was over in traffic court," says Pincham. "He showed potential, showed that he was dedicated. So I taught him."
Genson was a workaholic as much then as he is now (he estimates he sleeps only about four hours a night when he’s working on a trial). "I did a large volume business," he says. "I went from misdemeanors to felonies to felony murders to felony appeals, handled five or six cases a day. You do that many cases a day, a week, a year, and hundreds of people know your name."
It didn’t hurt that he was getting a lot of press coverage. "For some reason, I’d always get cases that got me publicity, cases that had notoriety," he says.
And then the Mob came calling.
Genson’s first Mob client was Jimmy "the Bomber" Catuara, a south suburban chop shop operator and hit man who had earned his name in the Taxi Wars of the 1930s, when rival gangs threw dynamite into one another’s cabs. In 1970, Catuara was gathered up with a bunch of associates in a police raid of a Chinatown social club. "Twenty old men playing cards, nobody over five foot five," Genson says. "The shortest looking crew I’d ever seen." Genson got the charges dropped. So when Catuara was indicted six months later with 18 others in an alleged mortgage fraud scheme, he called Genson, who warned that he had never handled a federal case before. "You’re a nice boy," Catuara told Genson. "I want you."
Catuara was acquitted, and that was the start of a long association with the Outfit. "I used to be fascinated with them," Genson says. "They would tell me stories from 40 years ago-Gussie Alex, who was like the boss, he used to date Rosalind Russell, the movie actress. He used to send money to Barney Ross, the fighter, because he liked the fights. He just talked about the Roaring Twenties and Thirties. They were good people. They were interesting. I enjoyed them."
Genson particularly enjoyed Pasquale Marchone, better known as Pat Marcy, one of the all-time fixers who, along with alderman Fred Roti and committeeman John D’Arco Sr., ran the old mobbed-up First Ward from his table at the Counsellor’s Row restaurant on LaSalle Street. According to authorities, Marcy, a "made" member of the Mob, fixed murder cases, ordered hits, arranged bribes, and so on, though the only time he was tried, late in his life, he died of a heart attack before a jury could pass judgment. "Pat was just fascinating as hell," Genson says. "He was brilliant. One of the most forceful personalities you’ve ever seen. Pat was just fun."
One day Marcy called up Genson and invited him to his office. "He said, ‘Let me ask you a hypothetical,’" Genson recalls. "‘What if an alderman took a check from a guy, just borrowed money, but then the guy had his driveway permit [approved]?’ I knew what he was doing. People would come to him like he was the boss, the fount of knowledge on anything legal, and he’d come to me asking crap like that all the time. ‘Just a hypothetical.’ Then two years later some politician would be indicted for taking some money to put a driveway permit in!"
A lawyer with Mob clients always runs the risk of getting drawn too far into their business. "You don’t become their friends, and you don’t go to dinner with them," says Patrick Tuite, a lawyer who has also defended Mob clients. "You draw the line between your clients and your practice."
It’s a lesson, Tuite says, that Genson learned along the way. It might stem from a chain of events that began in 1978, when Genson’s old client, Jimmy Catuara, was found facedown in a pool of blood near his red Cadillac at Hubbard Street and Ogden Avenue. One of the suspects was a Mob hit man, Billy Dauber, who, along with Albert Tocco, was reportedly trying to take over Catuara’s rackets. (Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass recently wrote, "Dauber was said to be so cold, he could put his arm around a man’s shoulders and smile and pull the trigger, the body slumping but Dauber still grinning and hugging like a pal.") Two years after Catuara was rubbed out, Dauber hired Genson to defend him on gun charges brought in Will County. After appearing in court one day, Genson accompanied Dauber and his wife to a Joliet coffee shop. The Daubers then invited Genson back to their antique shop in Crete. This time, Genson begged off. As the Daubers drove home, three men riding in a van pulled alongside and shot the couple with rifles. "He almost got killed by being too close to Dauber," Tuite says. "But you learn."
In yet another twist, one of the men eventually named as a suspect in the Dauber hit, Gerald Scarpelli, had previously been a Genson client. Some years after the Dauber murders, Genson defended Scarpelli on unrelated gun possession charges. Scarpelli never went to trial; he died in a cell in the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center downtown. Reportedly, he suffocated himself.
(The Dauber story has been back in the news because a former mobster, Nick Cala-brese, has entered the federal witness protection program and is reportedly singing like a bird. One of the cases he’s said to be dishing on: who killed Billy and Charlotte Dauber.)
"[Genson] doesn’t flinch," says a former FBI agent, Jim Wagner, now the chief investigator for the Illinois Gaming Board. "Some attorneys who have a more pristine background would probably turn pale and run."
In the summer of 1983, word began to leak of an astonishing FBI undercover investigation of the Cook County courts called Operation Greylord. Prosecutors won 83 convictions in all, including convictions against 15 judges, more than 40 lawyers, and a handful of bailiffs and clerks. The cases were based largely on recordings made over three years by FBI agents wearing wires while posing as lawyers and defendants with cases in the Cook County court system.
The first Greylord indictment was handed down against the veteran criminal courts judge Wayne Olson, who was believed to be the first judge in the United States to have his chambers bugged by the government. Olson turned to Genson to defend him; four other indicted judges followed suit. In all, Genson and Pat Tuite represented some 80 percent of the Greylord defendants, Genson says. Three people were acquitted, including one judge who was a client of Tuite’s.
Genson made his mark on Greylord despite the losses. His opening statement in one trial "brought the house down," said The American Lawyer. His client was a lawyer accused of passing cash bribes to Judge Raymond Sodini, who worked in gambling court, on 11th Street above the then police headquarters building. After the prosecutor’s moralistic opening statement, which left a heavy pall over the courtroom, Genson decided to change the vibe. He opened with a novelistic description of Sodini’s courtroom: "It’s dirty. It’s noisy. You sit up high on your seat because you don’t want your neck to touch the back because you might catch something. You’ve got one guy trying to deliver a pizza. A lawyer is bringing in buckets of chicken for court workers. One court clerk is selling Girl Scout cookies. A deputy sheriff is selling [Sheriff Richard] Elrod [campaign fundraiser] tickets. Another clerk is barbecuing on a windowsill, waving his arms trying to keep the smoke out of the window. Another clerk is cooking sausage and eggs in the judge’s chamber. Somebody is slicing salami. Trucks are tied up in traffic outside and honking their horns. The ‘L’ trains are roaring by outside the window."
And, as it turned out, lawyers were passing cash to the judge. Sodini broke down and pleaded guilty midway through the trial.
While the Greylord trials were still winding down, an even more eye-opening corruption case broke into public view. For three years, a Mob lawyer, Robert Cooley, wore a wire in a federal investigation named after him, Operation Gambat (short for "gambling attorney"). Once again, Genson was the go-to lawyer (the press was just starting to call him "legendary") for Marcy, Roti, and their pet state senator, John D’Arco Jr., among others. Genson set the tone from the start. "These allegations . . . are the ravings of a sick mind, and Mr. Cooley will be shown as such in court," he said when the indictments were announced. That set up a series of dramatic courtroom confrontations between Genson and Cooley, who to this day despise each other. In his opening statement in the D’Arco trial, for example, Genson described Cooley as "a paragon of corruption," saying, "This man is walking slime." Cooley now uses the quote on the Web site promoting his 2004 book, When Corruption Was King, which includes an unflattering portrait of Genson as a lazy, untrustworthy lawyer. In the course of the D’Arco trial, Genson objected so frequently during Cooley’s testimony that, at one point, the prosecutor said Genson had "done more testifying than Mr. Cooley."
"At least it’s more accurate!" Genson responded.
Genson’s most memorable moment, though, was when he became so exasperated by Cooley’s long-winded answers on cross-examination that he slammed his cane against the defense table and demanded the judge declare a mistrial. The judge later warned Genson, "Next time I see that cane misused, it’s going out the door!" D’Arco was convicted on charges of extortion and income tax evasion, and later sentenced to three years in prison. Roti was convicted of racketeering and extortion and sentenced to four years. Marcy’s fatal heart attack precluded a verdict in his trial.
"It takes a special breed of person to be a criminal defense lawyer because you lose all the time," says Rob Warden, executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. "It’s like, ‘Again? Can’t I ever win?’ It takes somebody that will really hang in there, and he’s one of those."
In a sense, Genson is a victim of his own legend when it comes to his won-lost record. "I’m like a cancer doctor-people come to me when they’re dead and ask me to save their lives," he says. "I’m afraid I’ll lose them all."
In criminal defense, "winning" and "losing" are best defined by what a lawyer realistically expects. Take the case of Frank Caruso Jr., the 19-year-old white Bridgeport kid charged in 1997 (along with two others) with the near-fatal beating of a 13-year-old African American, Lenard Clark. Caruso was convicted and served time, but Genson considers the case a win because the young man beat an attempted murder rap. "He would’ve gotten 20 years without parole if he lost on attempted murder," Genson says. "He got eight years on aggravated battery. It was reduced to five years on appeal. He did three. That was what I wanted. I knew I couldn’t beat it, but I didn’t want attempted murder. Some people said I lost, but I know I won."
Genson’s losses certainly haven’t hurt his reputation. While working on this story, I
e-mailed a friend at a law firm asking what he knew about Genson. His reply: "If I ever kill, I’m calling him." Later, I ran that by the former U.S. attorney Jim Burns, now the
inspector general in the secretary of state’s office, and he said, "He’s on everybody’s short list." Then Andrea Zopp told me, "He’s on mine."
After the hearing at the federal courthouse about whether Genson could stay in the Ryan-Warner trial, Genson raced to the Cook County criminal courthouse to pick a jury for the so-called angel killer, Margaret DeFrancisco, the pretty young Pilsen woman charged when she was a teenager in the murder of a 22-year-old truck driver who was romantically interested in her sister. That sister, Regina, had already been convicted for her part in luring the man to the DeFranciscos’ basement, where he was shot in the back of the head; the body was then dumped in a vacant lot and burned. It was Margaret’s second trial; the first had ended in a mistrial when a holdout juror locked herself in a bathroom, refusing to believe that someone so young could commit such a heinous crime (the girls’ motive was to steal the young man’s money).
The trial was tough going for Genson; Margaret was the proverbial cancer patient looking for a miracle. He gave it his all-after Genson’s impassioned closing argument, prosecutor Fabio Valentini whispered to Genson, "I just wanted to tell you I hate you," before beginning his own close. Genson returned the compliment, telling Valentini, "In about 45 minutes, I’m going to hate you."
After an hour and 40 minutes, the jury had reached a verdict: Guilty. "Shit," Genson muttered.
About a month later, at the sentencing, Genson again mustered an impassioned argument-this time in favor of the minimum 45 years in prison for the young woman, with no parole. "This is a little girl who did a terribly stupid thing," Genson said, as Margaret wiped tears from her eyes. "This is one day in a little girl’s life."
The judge’s decision: 46 years.
Afterwards, an exhausted Genson said to me, "I’ve got three murder cases left; then I’m done with them. I’ll stick with politicians."
The Ryan-Warner trial had been set for March until Ed Genson unexpectedly spoke up, throwing Judge Pallmeyer’s courtroom into disarray. At a hearing in late January, Pallmeyer was considering a desperate motion by Ryan’s lawyer, Dan Webb, to postpone the trial to the fall because Webb planned to be busy defending Philip Morris against a U.S.
Department of Justice lawsuit. If Webb couldn’t get the delay, Ryan would have to find another lawyer.
The hearing was a moment of high drama, as indicated by the guest list. U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald showed up, as did former governor Jim Thompson, a friend of Ryan’s, as well as Webb’s partner at Winston & Strawn. Webb himself made a rare appearance-the case had previously been handled by colleagues of his. George Ryan came, literally to beg the judge for a delay; former first lady Lura Lynn Ryan also appeared, greeting Genson with a kiss on the cheek.
Pallmeyer didn’t want to grant Webb’s motion. In December, she had said that the trial would go ahead in March barring "acts of God." She had shuffled her calendar to accommodate the Ryan-Warner proceedings, as had every other judge in the federal building. Genson, in fact, had beseeched other judges to move two of his trials to the fall so he could conduct Warner’s defense in the spring. And for a year and a half, Genson had been reminding Pallmeyer of his client’s right to a speedy trial (Warner was indicted almost two years before Ryan).
But loyalty is a powerful ingredient in Illinois politics, and a day before the hearing Warner told Genson he had decided to help his friend, the ex-governor, and go along with the delay request. When Genson reported this to the court, Pallmeyer was flummoxed, admitting her "enormous unhappiness." Prosecutors were outraged. Patrick Collins pointed out that his team had asked Pallmeyer in November to set the March date in stone "to avoid being exactly where we are today." Collins demanded to know why Warner had changed his mind.
"Quite frankly, it’s none of your business," Genson said.
Pallmeyer called for a recess to consider the matter; upon her return, she granted Webb’s motion, saying somewhat inexplicably that Ryan should get the same delay she would grant to any other defendant.
Collins angrily requested that Warner be brought to court in person to explain his change of heart. "The court should know the reason," Collins said.
Genson exploded. "What’s wrong with him?" he demanded. "The court shouldn’t know anything."
George Ryan walked out of the courtroom that day with a big grin on his face. Jim Thompson spotted Genson in the hallway, pumped his hand, and proclaimed, "Good man!"
Then I said to Genson, "I can’t believe you won that."
Not wanting to get baited into a comment in front of other reporters, Genson just glanced at me with a shrug, a smile, and a wave of his hand. Looking like the cat that swallowed the canary, he rode off down the corridor. He had to call his client with the news-and reschedule a few cases.