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Parties Say They Trust Hastert Judge's Impartiality

Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert this week pleaded not guilty to breaking banking laws and lying about the money to the FBI. The federal judge in the case will preside over it after the parties declined his offer to recuse himself.

The federal judge overseeing the criminal case of former House Speaker Dennis Hastert will continue to preside over it, even though he made campaign contributions to Hastert, as neither the prosecution nor the defense see it as a conflict of interest.

During Hastert's arraignment Tuesday, Chicago U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Durkin acknowledged that in 2002 and 2004, he contributed $500 and $1,000 to Hastert's campaign through his law firm, but he said he had never met the speaker.

Durkin also noted that he had worked at that firm with Hastert's son, Ethan, though they were not personal friends. He also had worked with both prosecuting attorneys and one of the defense lawyers in the U.S. Attorney's office in Chicago.

Durkin told the court that he has no doubt he can be impartial, but understood that some observers might consider it a conflict, so he offered to recuse himself from the case. Both the prosecution and Hastert's defense filed paperwork Thursday with the court asking that Durkin remain on the case.

Legal observers say such relationships between judges, attorneys appearing before them and local politicians are common in Chicago's legal community, and don't necessarily present a conflict of interest.

Hastert pleaded not guilty to charges he illegally structured withdrawals to circumvent federal banking regulations and then lied about it to FBI. The indictment charging Hastert alleges he agreed to pay $3.5 million dollars to someone identified only as "Individual A" to conceal prior misconduct. Several news organizations report that misconduct was sexual abuse decades ago when Hastert was a high school teacher and wrestling coach in Yorkville, IL, about 50 miles west of Chicago. NPR Has tried but has been unable to verify those reports.

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