The Work

December 15, 2008 5:17 PM

'Devil's Advocate' Added to Blago's Defense Team

Posted by Brian Baxter

Looking to bolster his legal team, Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich is expected to formally retain Edward Genson of Chicago's Genson & Gillespie today, report several news sources.

Genson is a seasoned Windy City litigator who knows a thing or two about political corruption trials. But Genson is perhaps best known for defending former Hollinger International CEO Conrad Black on fraud charges and R&B star R. Kelly on child pornography charges. (Black was convicted in July 2007; Kelly acquitted in June.)

The American Lawyer's Ross Todd described Genson as "Columbo-like" in his April 2007 story about the Black trial. Todd noted that Genson suffers from a neuromuscular condition called dystonia, which requires the litigator to ride a scooter to court and use a cane.

Genson's cane and associated limp have become courtroom lore in Chicago. Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal litigation partner and author Scott Turow, a friend and former adversary of Genson's while an assistant U.S. attorney in Chicago, once told Chicago Magazine that Genson's limp tends to get worse during trial--as a means of incurring sympathy with a jury and because his symptoms do get worse under stress.

Genson is no stranger to stressful situations. An excellent March 2005 profile of the litigator by Chicago Magazine chronicles his rise from a low-level traffic court attorney to preferred lawyer for the Mob. (Genson's fateful decision not to get in a car one day after court with one of his clients, former Mob hit man William "Billy" Dauber, likely saved him from being killed in a drive-by shooting.)

It was Genson's work during the eighties representing a series of defendants charged by prosecutors under Operation Greylord, an Operation Board Games-esque corruption inquiry into the judiciary of Cook County, Ill., that solidified his reputation. Genson's opening statement in one Greylord-related trial "brought the house down," reported The American Lawyer's Karen Dillon in a November 1989 profile of the litigator.

"Eddie's the best criminal defense lawyer in the city of Chicago," former assistant U.S. attorney and current McDermott Will & Emery trial department chief Jeffrey Stone told Dillon at the time. "He's got a mind like a barracuda."

Genson continued taking corruption cases, representing Chicago businessman and lobbyist Lawrence Warner, a codefendant of former Illinois governor George Ryan, Sr., during their 2006 corruption trial. (Both Ryan and Warner were convicted.)

So how is Genson feeling about Blagojevich?

"If I'm trying the case, it's going to be a fight," Genson told reporters gathered outside his office Monday morning. He said he needed to run a conflicts check but expected to be formally retained by the governor shortly. "I think the case that I've seen so far is significantly exaggerated. It's not what people think it is."

Genson had not returned a request for comment by The Am Law Daily at the time of this story.

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