|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.”
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