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Editorial: Play fair with Rep. Derrick Smith

Rep. Derrick Smith (D-Chicago). FILE PHOTO. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

Rep. Derrick Smith (D-Chicago). FILE PHOTO. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

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Updated: July 9, 2012 6:17AM

State Rep. Derrick Smith has been charged by the feds with a serious crime, pocketing bribes, but so far has been found guilty of nothing. In the past, that would mean Smith could carry on as usual, though under a cloud, retaining his seat in the Illinois House until such time as he is convicted. Plenty of elected officials, a good many of them Chicago aldermen, have done just that throughout Illinois history.

But times have changed. The political culture has changed, or at least the public pretenses of that culture have. We profess zero tolerance now for the mere hint of corruption. And that means that Smith, months before he even goes to trial on the federal charges, could be expelled from the House, stripped of his paycheck, job and career.

How fair is that?

Smith instantly became a much less effective legislator the day he was indicted; nobody’s going to work with him on anything. For the sake of his constituents, he should resign. But we’re troubled that the House is gearing up to put him on trial for taking a bribe, applying a standard of proof less rigorous than in any criminal court, and then likely will punish him with anything from censure to expulsion.

It’s a drag, to be blunt, to have an alleged felon in the General Assembly. Nobody wants a suspected bribe-taker casting the deciding vote on, say, the state budget. But better that, inconvenient as it may be, than the disregard of a most basic right — to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Our concern is less with Smith than with principle. He is accused of a serious crime and the evidence looks damning.

But zero tolerance should never trump fair play.

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