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Judges, ex-lawmakers, lobbyists wrote to support convicted ex-Madigan aide

Former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan’s longtime chief of staff Tim Mapes exits the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in downtown Chicago on Monday, Feb. 12, after he was sentenced to 30 months in prison for perjury and attempted obstruction of justice.
Andrew Adams
Capitol News Illinois
Former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan’s longtime chief of staff Tim Mapes exits the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in downtown Chicago on Monday, Feb. 12, after he was sentenced to 30 months in prison for perjury and attempted obstruction of justice.

After Tim Mapes’ August conviction on charges of perjury and attempted obstruction of justice in the federal criminal probe of his longtime boss, former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, many of his friends still had his back.

Mapes was sentenced to 2 ½ years in prison last month, though U.S. District Judge John Kness told Mapes he had “zero hesitation in agreeing, wholeheartedly, that you are a good man,” after reading dozens of letters written to the court on Mapes’ behalf.

Read more: Ex-Madigan aide sentenced to 30 months in prison for obstruction of justice attempt, perjury | Jury convicts Madigan’s longtime chief of staff on perjury, obstruction of justice charges

And on Tuesday, Kness published 181 pages of letters, including nearly a dozen written by public officials both retired and still serving, along with many lobbyists and political heavyweights still active in Springfield.

Among them was former Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride, who noted he’d gotten to know Mapes over 20 years on the court, and that Mapes’ son Devin had been a judicial intern in his office. He also administered the oath for new attorneys when Devin was admitted to the bar.

“Although I have not been privy to the full trial story, and my view is limited to my reading of newspaper articles, Tim’s misdeeds appear to be his first offense and to have had minimal impact on the investigation,” Kilbride wrote.

Kilbride was ousted from the court in 2020, making him the first-ever Illinois Supreme Court justice to lose a retention race. The campaign against Kilbride, who was first elected to the court as a Democrat, lumped him in with Madigan during the fall of 2020 when the still-unfolding criminal investigation into the speaker’s operation had already dubbed him “Public Official A.”

Mapes was indicted in 2021, a few months after Madigan left office amid mounting political pressure as the feds’ investigation into the speaker’s inner circle grew. During Mapes’ trial and again during sentencing last month, prosecutors claimed Mapes could have been a “star witness” for the government had he not lied to a grand jury about Madigan’s dealings with a powerful lobbyist for electric utility Commonwealth Edison.

The lobbyist – Mike McClain – was indicted and later convicted along with three other former ComEd execs for orchestrating a bribery scheme between Madigan and the utility. McClain and Madigan face a separate criminal trial this fall on related charges.

Read more: Madigan trial delayed until October for SCOTUS review of bribery statute

Many of the letters – whether from lifelong friends from Mapes’ native Nauvoo in western Illinois or former staffers that counted him as their boss – cast Mapes as a quiet doer of good deeds, always kind and professional.

The closest any of the letters from the eight former Illinois House members got to painting Mapes as anything but consistently patient was from Barbara Flynn Currie, a 40-year veteran of the General Assembly. Currie served more than half of that time as majority leader – second in the House to Madigan.

“Was he perturbed when the train ran off the rails? Of course. Could he be brusque when that happened? Of course,” Currie wrote. “But he never, in my experience, carried a grudge.”

Mapes as a conductor who kept the trains running on time was a metaphor employed throughout his three-week trial in August. Many witnesses testified to Mapes’ fastidious nature not just in his job as Madigan’s chief of staff, but also as House Clerk and executive director of the Democratic Party of Illinois under Madigan’s chairmanship.

But the trial also delved into why Mapes was suddenly fired from all three of those jobs in 2018, when a staffer publicly accused him of sexual harassment and bullying at the height of the #MeToo movement. In the wake of Mapes’ firing, Madigan commissioned an independent investigation into Mapes’ management style, which resulted in a 202-page report that found a culture of fear and intimidation in the speaker’s office.

Among the seven other former members of the General Assembly who wrote letters were Auditor General Frank Mautino and Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough, who wrote Mapes “genuinely cares for people,” and later asked Kness to “show mercy to Tim.”

Mautino, who was appointed by the General Assembly to the post of auditor general in 2015 after serving 24 years in the House, wrote that “in all things work related,” he found Mapes “to be honest, forthright and trustworthy.”

He also included an anecdote about answering a call on his mobile phone while he was presiding over the House – despite it being against Mapes’ rules to have cell phones at the podium. But much of the paragraph was redacted, in line with Kness’ ruling last month to black out personal information from the letters.

However, Kness said it was in the public’s interest to see which public figures had signed their names to the letters.

Others who penned letters on Mapes’ behalf included former Congressman Jerry Costello and 1st District Appellate Judge David Ellis, who’d worked as chief counsel in the speaker’s office before getting elected to the bench in 2014.

“He was tough and demanding, but he never asked me for anything other than my honest legal work and opinions,” Ellis wrote.

Ellis also testified in last spring’s trial of the so-called “ComEd Four.”

Also among letter writers were Madigan’s longtime spokesman, Steve Brown, and Tim Drea, the president of the Illinois AFL-CIO – a juggernaut of the organized labor movement that was a crucial ally to Madigan.

Drea wrote that he’d met Mapes in 1990 when he was a laid-off coal miner who’d started volunteering in Democratic politics. He and others wrote about Mapes’ willingness to hire their family members.

“I believe that we are evaluated by the things we quietly do to help others with no expectation of reward,” Drea wrote. “Tim Mapes is a good man who assisted my family in many ways and never asked for anything in return. I ask that you take into consideration the good he has done for so many people.”

One longtime staffer who served with Mapes since the beginning of his Illinois House career in the 1970s, said Mapes was “always popular” with former staffers, who often got together in what they called “Madigan Minion reunions.”

“Tim acted as a coach and mentor to entry-level (messengers, drivers, pages, clerks, etc.) employees,” wrote Monica Christ. “Tim was kind of a father figure to them.”

Closing out her two-page letter, Christ espoused Mapes’ various talents learned from growing up on a farm, including baking “homemade cinnamon rolls and crème brûlée” that she rated “five-star.” She also wrote that Mapes was a “great disco dancer,” but concluded the paragraph by telling Kness that Mapes “is, however, a finicky eater.”

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of print and broadcast outlets statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

Hannah covers state government and politics for NPR Illinois and Illinois Public Radio. She previously covered the statehouse for The Daily Line and Law360, and also worked a temporary stint at the political blog Capitol Fax in 2018.