WOODSTOCK – A federal judge dismissed a former assistant state’s attorney’s lawsuit claiming he was fired for testifying against McHenry County State’s Attorney Lou Bianchi.
Kirk Chrzanowski filed the civil lawsuit in January, seeking more than $50,000 in damages. He also accused Bianchi of giving preferential treatment to employees who are political allies.
In his written ruling, U.S. Federal Judge Philip G. Reinhard said Bianchi and Criminal Division Chief Michael Combs, who also was named in the lawsuit, were protected against civil damages as long as their actions were not a violation of constitutional rights.
Chrzanowski testified against Bianchi, who was accused of giving deals to a relative and an investigator’s relative, as well as a politically connected doctor. Bianchi had been accused of directing Chrzanowski to reduce a previously negotiated five-year sentence to four years.
Special prosecutors appointed to the case said Bianchi’s involvement was improper because the defendant was the nephew of a state’s attorney’s office investigator, Ron Salgado. Testimony, however, showed that the relationship was more like stepgreat-uncle.
Chrzanowski testified that Bianchi told him that four years was “acceptable” and that he saw Bianchi give a nod toward the defendant’s family in the courtroom on the day the plea went through.
Bianchi was acquitted after two separate bench trials before the defense called any witnesses.
In his ruling, Reinhard said Chrzanowski was testifying as a prosecutor rather than as a private citizen, and his speech therefore was not protected by the First Amendment.
“Public employees who speak pursuant to their official duties speak as employees rather than citizens, and thus their speech is not protected by the First Amendment regardless of its content,” Reinhard said.
Part of Chrzanowski’s duties as a prosecutor included testifying if necessary, Reinhard said.
“As an assistant state’s attorney, [Chrzanowski] was obligated to pursue all criminal offenses, even those allegedly perpetrated by his supervisors, including Bianchi himself,” Reinhard said. “It was also part of his job to serve the people of McHenry County in the proper administration of justice.”
According to the complaint, Chrzanowski was summoned to Bianchi’s office on Dec. 2 and was “interrogated” by Bianchi and Combs.
Combs presented Chrzanowski with transcripts of his grand jury and trial testimony, as well as phone records.
According to the complaint, Bianchi asked for Chrzanowski’s resignation, but he refused. Bianchi then said, “You’re terminated. Get out.”
Bianchi said Chrzanowski gave misinformation to the special prosecutor that showed lack of integrity and that was why he was terminated, and that he gave Chrzanowski an opportunity to resign to save his reputation.
Chrzanowski also said that after he was disclosed as a potential witness for the prosecution, in the Bianchi case, Bianchi allegedly began retaliating by placing negative information in his personnel file, which otherwise had contained positive feedback.
In addition to the counts dismissed by the judge, Chrzanowski withdrew several others alleging violations of laws such as the Illinois State Officials and Employee Ethics Act.
On Monday, Bianchi said he was delighted that the “frivolous” lawsuit was dismissed so quickly.
“As an elected official, one might argue that it’s part of the job to get sued from time to time,” he said.
Combs said he hadn’t lost any sleep over Chrzanoski’s lawsuit.
“I never did anything wrong, and I was confident it was going to go my way,” he said.
Chrzanowski, who now works for an Oakbrook-based law firm, did not respond to a request for comment.