Ford’s arraignment in front of Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer took just 10 minutes, but it drew a crowd of more than 40 8th District residents who were vociferous in their support and praise of Ford.
“This is one of the most amazing, spontaneous things I’ve ever seen in 37 years,” said Ford’s lawyer, Thomas Durkin. “You don’t get people like this to come out and support you under circumstances like this unless you’re a man of substance.”
Ford arrived at the courthouse with a small group of friends and family about 15 minutes before his 9:30 a.m. hearing. A larger group of supporters joined them in the courtroom.
After his not-guilty plea, Ford was released on a $4,500 recognizance bond, meaning he did not have to give up any money or property, but will be forced to pay the amount if he misses any court appointments.
The next appointment is a Jan. 11 status update, which Pallmeyer excused Ford from attending after his lawyer explained the lawmaker “may have to be in Springfield.”
After the brief court appearance, supporters gathered on the first floor of the Dirksen building to wait for the lawmaker and greeted him with a boisterous round of applause when he emerged from the elevator.
Ford described the group, which included CeaseFire founder Tio Hardiman, Christ the King President the Rev. Christopher Devron and Circle Family Healthcare CEO Dr. Andre Hines, as his “family and friends.”
Devron said he was at the courthouse on Tuesday because Ford “is a man who has dedicated his life to the betterment of the West Side.”
“They came because they wanted to, not because I asked them to,” Ford said.
Vickie Rivkin, the project director for the neighborhood recovery initiative in Austin, summed up the sentiments of many of the supporters when she said she was there for Ford because “he is who he says he is” and is “absolutely without a doubt” innocent of the charges.
Hines, who said she has worked closely with Ford for the past three years, echoed Rivkin’s sentiment.
“I believe he is an innocent man. I believe he is an honest man,” Hines said. “I believe this is a witch hunt, and his innocence will be shown.”
When asked if she was concerned the criminal trouble would distract Ford from his role as a legislator, Hines said “of course I am.”
“I wonder, even, if that’s the intent. I think he has the potential to do so much for us in Springfield, and this will distract him,” Hines said. “We need him in our community. He is certainly a warrior for all of us … and we need him to stay focused.”
Ford was adamant the charges would not stop him from doing his job as a legislator.
“I’m going to continue to fight for my constituents,” he said.
And Ford’s attorney insisted the criminal charges would not prevent the lawmaker from doing his job.
“This has nothing whatsoever to do with his public office, that’s clear, everybody has acknowledged that,” Durkin said. “He’s a very successful, very honest public official, [and] he intends to continue serving the public.”
Durkin called the charges against Ford “unfounded,” and questioned what public benefit was derived from prosecuting the lawmaker.
“If the U.S. Attorney’s office wanted to charge every single person who made a mistake in a financial form that’s given to a bank, then we wouldn’t have room for any other prosecution in this country,” Durkin said. “Why was there a need to prosecute this man?”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Randall Samborn said he had no comment on Durkin’s insistence that the charges are unfounded.
One of Ford’s supporters, Keith McDonald, said he believes the charges, which allege that Ford fraudulently obtained a $500,000 increase and a two-year extension on a line of credit, all stem from an error.
“It is probably just a little piece of document that needed to be addressed, and there are those who want to make a … mountain out of a mole hill,” McDonald said.
Photo: West Side clergy and supporters held a prayer vigil and press conference Monday. Photo courtesy of Nicole Acree.