Settlement negotiations continue in the far western suburbs, where a trial is scheduled to begin next month which has the potential for sordid testimony, embarrassing revelations and a confrontation between a once-powerful politician and the man who brought down his soaring career.
That politician is former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who is being sued by a man who says Hastert still owes him $1.8 million in hush money that was promised to keep details of decades-old sexual abuse secret.
Friday afternoon, attorneys for Hastert and his accuser shuttled in and out of the chambers of judget Robert Pilmer who acted as mediator in the ongoing negotiations. But after roughly two hours of such talks, the attorneys indicated no settlement had been reached.
Hastert was sentenced to 15 months in prison after pleading guilty to financial improprieties related to the deal. He admits that he promised $3.5 million to the man to guarantee his silence, and that he paid him $1.7 million before their agreement was revealed.
But now the case is about to go to trial in a courthouse where neither party wants to be seen. The accuser, identified in court documents as James Doe, has fought to keep his identity secret but would have to reveal himself during selection of the jury and almost certainly would have to take the stand.
For his part, Hastert has suffered immeasurable public humiliation, has not been seen in public since his imprisonment, and hardly wants to re-live the events which brought his astonishing fall from power.
This week, attorneys for both filed a flurry of motions designed to limit the scope of what would be allowed if the trial begins as scheduled November 18th.
Hastert’s attorney John Ellis has made clear that he will attempt to bar all testimony relating to facts surrounding the original abuse. In motions filed with the court Wednesday, Ellis asked the judge to prohibit evidence relating to any events prior to 2008, the accuser’s alleged personal tribulations, psychiatric treatment, bouts of depression, or unemployment.
In doing so, Ellis made clear that he expects to conduct the proceedings as a breach of contract case and nothing more.
Acting on Hastert’s behalf, Ellis also asked the court to bar any evidence that the accuser had sworn his friends and family to secrecy when he told them of his financial deal with Hastert. It is the former speaker’s contention that when he made those revelations, he voided the agreement which he had promised never to reveal.
Indeed, in a separate motion, Hastert asked for his money back, arguing Doe forfeited the entire arrangement when he told friends and family of its existence.
Ellis also asked the court to prohibit use of any details from Hastert’s criminal trial, including statements from the disgraced former Speaker, his prosecutors, even from the judge.
“These comments could only be used to besmirch Defendant's character and prejudice the jury against him,” Ellis wrote. "The jury would inherently see this evidence as more trustworthy, and would likely take it as fact, or at the very least, as more reliable than any statements to the contrary."
Through his attorney Kristi Browne, Doe asked the court to limit any claims from Hastert that the allegations were manufactured, that it was unenforceable, or that the suit would damage the former Speaker’s reputation.
“This type of statement is improperly designed to appeal to the passions and sympathy of the jury,” she wrote.
After court Friday, Browne acknowledged the shuttle negotiations which had taken place, but suggested there had been no breakthrough.
"I can't tell you about the settlement negotiations," she said. "I can tell you we didn't settle today."
Browne acknowledged that at one point during the talks, she placed a call to her client.
With the proceedings set for just one month from today, Browne declined a reporter's question about the potential of the trial beginning as scheduled.
"I can't tell you what the odds are," she said. "We're scheduled to go to trial next month."
Barring a settlement, jury selection is set to begin November 13.