The company Rep. Hoffman keeps

By The Madison County Record | May 11, 2008

In a Democrat-leaning county where the leading political heavies are wealthy trial lawyers, Rep. Jay Hoffman has what the power brokers consider the right stuff.

Rep. Hoffman is a dedicated Democrat and veteran Springfield operator who worked hard for and remains a loyal defender of Gov. Rod Blagojevich. He's also a trial lawyer, one who collects a comfortable salary as partner with the biggest big dollar lawsuit outfit in town. The class action crowd likes Hoffman.

He's still their guy, even though Blagojevich's reputation and approval rating are in tatters, and even as the Lakin Law Firm, where Hoffman hangs his nominal shingle, faces the looming trial or prison sentencing of its name partner, L. Thomas Lakin.

Lakin has been charged with drug and sex offenses so sordid, one shudders to ponder them. He's trying to work-out a guilty plea, the record reflects.

So it's appropriate in this election year that we seriously contemplate the company a politician keeps. In Hoffman's case, the dismal circumstances and dark future facing two of his most important allies begs the question: does Hoffman ever plan to distance himself from these guys?

Lakin, whose namesake firm pays Hoffman a hefty salary, is no longer proclaiming his innocence, but instead trying to cut a deal that will limit his time behind bars and allow him to live out his life unbranded as a sex offender. Lakin, whose firm single-handedly turned Madison County into a class action haven as he jetted between Wood River, Key West, and Malibu, appears ready to spend much of the next decade in a cold prison.

Blagojevich, whose friendship made Hoffman a powerful political player, is fully-embroiled in the bribery trial of one of his key fundraisers, Tony Rezko. That's not to mention several other investigations of his administration that are also proceeding. A federal judge indirectly confirmed earlier this year that Blagovich is, in fact, "Public Official A," alleged by prosecutors in the Rezko trial to be involved in public corruption.

Once upon a time, Jay Hoffman may have been an appropriate choice to serve as Madison County's key advocate in Springfield. Whether he should be any longer is a serious question.

Will Hoffman ever leave the discredited Lakin Law Firm? Will he ever say what he knows--if anything--about the Rezko scandal?

He's been largely silent on both subjects, although his name and fundraising clout were referenced in the Rezko trial last week.

He doesn't have to speak up, that's his prerogative, not to mention his legal right. But it's our responsibility to assess Hoffman's viability as a public official and to closely question the folks with whom he chooses to associate.

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