Greylord revisited: ousting crooked judges
By ANN LOUSIN
James Tuohy and Rob Warden. Greylord: Justice, Chicago Style. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1989. Pp. 271. $19.95 (cloth).
Brocton Lockwood with Harlan H. Mendenhall. Operation Greylord: Brocton Lockwood's Story. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1989. Pp. 170 with appendix. $19.95 (cloth).
Ira, a crooked cop, told a southern Illinois judge that he had to decide whether to "go into the Mafia or into the police department. He decided that the police department was a better money-maker."
This anecdote from Brocton Lockwood's memoirs could just as easily apply to lawyers who decided to become judges in Cook County: You could make more money as a crooked judge than as a gangster. So could the bailiffs, court clerks and lawyers who hustled cases in traffic court before "friendly" judges.
By now, most Illinoisans have heard of "Operation Greylord," the investigation that exposed widespread corruption in the Cook County justice system. During the last five years we have seen dozens of cops, court personnel and $200 whores in black robes go to prison. Both of these books on Greylord describe the long hours and hard work that went into uncovering and documenting the corruption in order to obtain convictions in federal trials.
James Tuohy and Rob Warden are journalists who edit Chicago Lawyer, an investigative monthly that broke many of the Greylord stories. Their account offers a pastiche of Greylord personalities, a collection of vignettes about malfeasance in office. They profile many of the worst judges, beginning with Ray Sodini and ending with Reginald Holzer, describing each person's background and method of filching money from lawyers and litigants in order to fill his own pockets. Their book reads like an extended newspaper story, a chronological retelling of the investigations and trials.
One protagonist who emerges from their chronicle is Terry Hake, the disillusioned young lawyer about whom the authors are obviously ambivalent. He went to the feds and offered to help them obtain convictions by "wearing a wire,'' a recorder that taped conversations with suspected crooks. As presented here, Hake's motives are unclear. Did he simply want his eventual reward — a job with the FBI — or did he want to clean up the corruption in the Cook County judiciary?
Perhaps his motives do not really matter. However, since his cooperation was the single most important reason that Operation Greylord succeeded, the book really should have considered more fully the possibility that one man's ambition, not simply his disillusionment, was the force behind the investigation.
The authors are also ambivalent about the two U.S. attorneys who handled the investigations and prosecutions, Dan Webb and Anton Valukas. Tuohy and Warden clearly find distasteful the government's setting up phony cases in courtrooms where the judges and others were suspects. They do not discuss, however, whether the government had any other options. Presumably, the government could have obtained evidence of a lower official's bribery on tapes and then used it to persuade that person to "flip" or "roll over on" higher officials. Since in the end the government did have to rely on "flippers," was it also necessary to set up elaborate phony cases, some of which could have had disastrous consequences if they had backfired? Tuohy and Warden do not really address the import of the government's abusing the legal process in order to expose even greater abuses.
During the last five years we have seen dozens of cops, court personnel and $200 whores in black robes go to prison
Other reviewers have criticized Tuohy and Warden's imaginative speculation — for example, stating what certain people thought when such matters were obviously unknown to the authors — as well as their tasteless characterizations — for instance, suggesting that Anton Valukas' mustache made him look like Heinrich Himmler. Some lawyers I know say the authors' stories are even factually incorrect at times. My complaint is that they do not explain the choices available to each of the parties at every crucial juncture. Why did each judge become a crook? Who were their political sponsors, and what did these sponsors know about their proteges? Why didn't some lawyer before Hake go to the feds and begin the investigations leading to prosecution? Why did the government run the risk of phony cases backfiring?
Former Judge Brocton Lockwood's memoirs answer the question about the dearth and delay of whistleblowers by recounting his own fate as one of them. His is a frightening book in many ways. Lockwood, who was a Southern Illinois associate circuit judge, found himself in Chicago on special assignment each summer. Appalled at the social injustice and personal corruption he saw, Lockwood went to the FBI before Hake did. Lockwood sought nothing from the feds for his assumption of a terrible risk, and he describes Greylord solely from his point of view. He reviews the pervasive low-level corruption, which went far beyond simply accepting bribes for personal profit. For example, in Housing Court, he reports, judges who were not
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actually receiving bribes found that they were expected to give slum landlords "more time" to fix their buildings. The social milieu of Cook County insisted that "respectable" people like apartment building owners not suffer too much. Who knows how many black babies died in unheated housing while the courts gave absentee landlords "another chance"?
After reading Lockwood's story, I do not condemn the "conspiracy of silence" that some observers say allowed such corruption to flourish. The FBI comes across as a white-collar brigade of the Keystone Cops, unable to cooperate fully with the U.S. attorney's office and even unwilling to pay Lockwood "severance pay" so he could support himself for a mere four months after he was being forced to leave office with no hope of another judgeship. Given the entire political and social climate of Cook County, only the feds, inept as they sometimes were, could investigate such wide-scale corruption.
Furthermore, Lockwood documents the effects of racism and classism in the FBI and among the Chicago police. The FBI employs mostly white, male, well-dressed agents, precisely the type of people police hate to arrest for minor crimes. The Chicago police often refused to arrest the FBI's "criminals," thus hampering the effort to set up phony cases in the courts. Lockwood relates a funny, but chilling, anecdote. An FBI agent doused with whisky careened down State Street in a car at night in order to get arrested. The cop who stopped him, however, refused to arrest a man who, when sober, would have a lawyer in court and would probably get off. To get arrested, the G-man had to jump up and down on the hood of the squad car.
Worst of all, in my view, is that Brocton Lockwood realized that the minute he exposed corruption in the Cook County judiciary, he would have to resign his judgeship. How sad that, as he knew, as prosecutors knew and as we now know, the bench and bar would never again accept him in their ranks in Cook County. (He now practices law in southern Illinois.) Is this the price an honest man must pay to help insure that judges "judge with justice"? If so, a conspiracy of silence is easier to understand than to deplore.
Ann Lousin is a professor of law at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago.
26/February 1990/Illinois Issues