With the significant fiscal issues facing lawmakers this legislative session, bills that don’t deal with Medicaid reform, pension reform or other budgetary matters aren’t getting as much attention.
But many McHenry County residents will be pleased by a bill that sailed through both the Illinois House and Senate this month.
House Bill 4749, which establishes stricter guidelines for judges considering appointing special prosecutors when the state’s attorney cannot investigate a case, passed both chambers unanimously and is awaiting Gov. Pat Quinn’s signature.
Under the bill, inspired by the costly special prosecution of State’s Attorney Lou Bianchi, a judge must first determine whether another public agency, such as the Illinois Attorney General or other counties’ state’s attorneys, can investigate before appointing a special prosecutor. If a special prosecutor is appointed, county government will be able to participate in the process of establishing compensation for the special prosecutor, and will receive an itemized bill of expenses.
We were in favor of the bill up until that point, but we questioned the constitutionality of this next part:
Also under the legislation, a judge is forbidden from expanding the scope of a special prosecutor’s investigation before notifying the County Board, which can weigh in on the additional expense.
We think this opens the door for politics to play a greater role in an investigation, which shouldn’t happen. The constitutional questions emerge from the conflict between the legislative and judicial branches. We’ll have to wait and see whether this provision gets challenged in court.
Regardless, this new legislation, if signed by Quinn, won’t spare local taxpayers the cost of the special prosecution of Bianchi. But it should help to reduce the possibility of something similar from happening in the future.
To date, taxpayers have paid $525,000 for the special prosecution of Bianchi, who beat all 24 corruption-related counts against him. County government is fighting a bill for an additional $288,201. Taxpayers clearly got taken in this case, and shouldn’t again.