Special prosecutor ruling relieves county officials
WOODSTOCK – To McHenry County Board members, paying for one special prosecution has been more than enough for county taxpayers.
Board members said they were happy with a judge’s ruling Wednesday rejecting a sheriff’s deputy request to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate whether Sheriff Keith Nygren broke the law by using a seven-point star both in his official capacity as sheriff and in campaign literature.
Given that taxpayers already have paid more than $525,000 related to the failed prosecution of McHenry County State’s Attorney Lou Bianchi by two court-appointed special prosecutors – and could be on the hook for much more – Wednesday’s ruling was welcome news for board Chairman Ken Koehler, R-Crystal Lake.
“I think it’s a win for the taxpayers – that’s the biggest thing. We realized from the beginning that it was a pretty frivolous case,” Koehler said.
The ruling by Judge Thomas A. Meyer does not end the battle between Nygren and Deputy Zane Seipler, but it means the county does not have to pay for it, barring a successful appeal. Seipler’s request spanned two years and more than 30 court dates.
Meyer ruled that discretion to investigate the sheriff rests solely with the state’s attorney. However, Bianchi has said he cannot prosecute the sheriff because his office represents the sheriff’s office and that creates a conflict.
Seipler has alleged that Nygren’s use of the star amounts to theft, official misconduct and misappropriation of funds.
Koehler and other County Board members said the special prosecutor request amounts to a farce.
Finance and Audit Committee Chairman Scott Breeden, R-Lakewood, said he is “glad we found a judge with a great deal of sense.” The ruling takes away one unknown expense as his committee and county staff begin developing next year’s budget, he said.
“I think this was so out of bounds, so crazy, that we would have appealed it,” if Meyer had supported a special prosecutor, Breeden said. “I would have at least asked that the County Board take a look at appealing that decision.”
The County Board is appealing the bill that another judge says it owes to special prosecutors Henry Tonigan and Thomas McQueen in their failed investigation of Bianchi.
Tonigan and McQueen brought a total of 24 corruption charges against Bianchi, all of which were thrown out of court.
County taxpayers already have paid $242,399 for two grand jury investigations and two trials. Judge Gordon Graham, who appointed the special prosecutors, ordered in January that the county pay an additional $288,201 to Tonigan, McQueen and the computer forensics firm they hired.
The County Board in January approved a $275,000 settlement to help pay the legal fees of Bianchi and his attorney Joyce Synek, who was acquitted of the six charges she faced. As part of the settlement, Bianchi and Synek agreed to reimburse the county up to the full amount if they prevail and win damages in a federal civil rights lawsuit they filed against Tonigan and McQueen.
However, Tonigan and McQueen are asking the County Board – and therefore the taxpayers – to pay for their defense against that lawsuit. The Illinois Appellate Prosecutor’s Office is representing the county in its fight against the request, and its fight to keep from paying the $288,201 more that Graham has ordered to be paid.
County Board Law and Justice Committee Chairman Nick Provenzano, R-McHenry, said county taxpayers do not need a second open-ended investigation eating away at their wallets.
“Without commenting on the merits [of the Seipler case], it’s nice we won’t be tracking another set of bills,” Provenzano said.