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House speaker's top lawyer leaves post after being behind ban on lawmakers answering Chicago Tribune questions

Rick Pearson, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

Instead, in an email delivered to Driscoll in the evening of March 21 with the subject line, “Not what you were hoping for,” Hartmann wrote, “The more I think about it, the more I don’t want to justify or even discuss my ethical guidance publicly.”

In that same email, Hartmann wrote, “In retrospect I probably shouldn’t have said anything to Jeremy (Gorner, the Tribune reporter) in the first place, but further explaining isn’t going to help given their response.”

Hartmann noted the policy email sent to House Democrats that had come from Maxson “didn’t come from me.” And in an apparent response to the Tribune’s request for legal citations to back up the policy, he curtly wrote, “I’m also not an attorney for the media and I don’t do legal research for them.”

Driscoll, who had initially defended the ban as “long-standing policy” only to be informed that no such policy had existed for at least four decades, sent a “clarification” the next day.

It said the memo was “overly cautious and was not prepared or reviewed by the House Ethics Officer (Hartmann). In a subsequent meeting, it was clarified to members that nothing precludes them from answering reporter questions.”

A day later, Welch personally responded in a statement that he also shared on social media saying the memo contained “incorrect information,” was a “mistake” and he apologized to the statehouse press corps.

In responding to the Tribune’s request for relevant documents, the House FOIA officer, assistant House Clerk Brad Bolin, wrote that Hartmann and Maxson, director of the House Democrats’ communications unit and a longtime spokesman for individual members, were asked to recuse themselves.

 

Welch “ordered the release of all responsive records, without exemption or redaction,” Bolin wrote. “As Speaker Welch was not aware of or included on any emails, texts or other communications regarding the memo, the only responsive records are from staff.”

“Speaker Welch’s review into the handling of this matter by staff remains ongoing,” Bolin wrote.

The FOIA response said the House Republicans’ chief legal counsel, Derek Persico, was “consulted” regarding the information’s release to the Tribune. But House GOP spokeswoman Colleen King said the term “consulted” was boilerplate language and that there was no discussion and Persico was merely handed the House Democrats’ FOIA response.

Hartmann’s departure comes at a crucial time for House Democrats as the substantive negotiations over major items takes place prior to the legislature’s scheduled May 24 adjournment.

Hartmann had served as chief counsel since Sept. 15, 2022, and as an assistant counsel in the speaker’s office since 2017. Only months ago, he was designated a Chicago Lawyer “40 under 40” honoree. Taking Hartmann’s place is Kendra Piercy, who became Hartmann’s chief assistant only two months ago and has served as an assistant legal counsel for the speaker’s office since 2020.

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