Thursday, April 16, 2020

Attorney Ed Genson, friend of the guilty

Ed Genson at home, 2019

     Left to my own devices, I probably would n0t have written Ed Genson's obituary. First, because there is a comprehensive Chicago magazine profile of Genson, written by Steve Rhodes, and I hate to follow in anybody's wake and try to reinvent the wheel. Second, just last year I wrote a column where Genson said his client R. Kelly was "guilty as hell," and perhaps there is something sketchy in having the guy who recently caused the deceased distress then turn around and summarize his life. And finally, I have scant interest in the organized crime world where he dwelled. But this task fell to me, so—helped greatly by Maureen O'Donnell and Jon Seidel—so I tried my best to execute it. 

     Where do you begin with Ed Genson? With the notorious defense attorney’s long list of famous clients? From singer R. Kelly to movie star Shia LaBeouf, from newspaper mogul Conrad Black to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich?
     Do you start there?
     Or with the Mafia hit men — alleged Mafia hit men, since many walked free, with Mr. Genson’s help — and mobbed up politicians? If Mr. Genson was famous for one thing, it was as the wily and effective attorney of the damned: “Devil’s advocate” is the headline Chicago magazine put on his profile in 2005.
     “I have no aversion to organized crime,” Mr. Genson said in 2003.
     Certainly his involvement with the infamous Chicago corruption probes — Greylord, Gambat, Silver Shovel, Operation Haunted Hall — should be prominently featured. Mr. Genson defended the accused in all of them.
     At what point do you mention that death finally came for him, filing one motion he could not quash? Mr. Genson died Tuesday at age 78. He had been fighting cancer in recent years, and long suffered from a neuromuscular disorder called dystonia that sometimes makes muscles contract involuntarily. He walked with a cane or used a scooter but even that, he used to his legal advantage.
     “When he was trying to do something in front of the jury, of course his limp got markedly worse,” said World Business Chicago CEO Andrea Zopp, a former federal prosecutor and first assistant Cook County state’s attorney. “I saw that happen more times than one.”
     But he did a lot more than limp.
     “Eddy was very, very prepared,” said Zopp.
     For nearly half a century, no criminal attorney in Chicago was better known or held in the same mix of grudging affection and open-mouthed amazement.
     ”He was half-Columbo, half-Perry Mason,” said former federal prosecutor Patrick M. Collins. “When Eddy was on a case, you knew you were going to go to trial (rather than a plea). He really liked a good fight. Eddy shot you in the chest. He didn’t shoot you in the back. . . .You had to bring your ‘A’ game as a prosecutor.” 

To continue reading, click here.


  1. I have no respect, let alone any use for Andrea Zopp!
    When she prosecuted Mel Reynolds, she locked up one of his victims for days at 26th & Cal to force her to testify against him.
    It doesn't matter how disgusting a creep Reynolds was & apparently still is, you don't lock up victims to force them to testify!

  2. Once I consulted an attorney about something or other, and after our business was done, we chatted a bit about our respective careers. He mentioned that he had started out as a criminal defense attorney.

    "Why didn't you stick with criminal law?" I asked.

    "Well, the problem with criminal law is that you represent people who are...who are..."

    I suggested, "Criminals?"

    He nodded. "And if they can't obey society's rules on how to behave, why would they obey any rules about paying my fee?"

  3. "At what point do you write that death finally came for him, filing a motion he could not quash?" Brings to mind a metaphor from "Aubade," Phillip Larkins great poem about an early morning contemplation of death: "The anesthetic from which none come around."


  4. One can only hope that like Marley in "The Christmas Carol" that Ed Genson is spending his time in the hereafter weighed down with a chain of cashboxes filled with the money he got for saving criminals from justice. People like him were accurately described in the book of Proverbs as an abomination for protecting the wicked.

  5. Mobbed-up shysters were yet another reason why a great many people would roll their eyes and smirk at you when you told them you were from Chicago. But his kind of lawyer, and the criminals he got off, are fading away and becoming just another part of my town's sordid history. Changing times and shifting demographics have provided folks with other reasons to sneer and smirk at Chicago, and Chicagoans, but this is neither the time nor the place for all that.

    I'm a Chicago boy, so I'm a life-long cynic, and even perversely proud of Chicago's "rep." My birthplace was often called "The City That Works", and that last word has always had multiple meanings. When you're a nice Jewish boychik from the 1950s West Side, and you're not a mope, and you pass the bar exam and your old man is a bailiff and a precinct captain, Chicago is gonna work for you, too. One hand will wash the other. Move along, pal, nothing to see here.


Comments are vetted and posted at the discretion of the proprietor.