ROCKFORD – The defense attorney who represented McHenry County State’s Attorney Lou Bianchi in two corruption trials traded roles Wednesday to become the prosecutor tasked with prosecuting the special prosecutor once appointed to prosecute the state’s attorney.
Sound confusing? That’s because it is.
“There’s never been a case like this,” said Terry Ekl, Bianchi’s defense attorney-turned prosecutor in criminal contempt proceedings against Thomas McQueen, the special prosecutor once appointed to investigate Bianchi.
The bench trial before Winnebago County Judge Joseph McGraw began Wednesday.
McGraw presided over two Bianchi trials. In one, the state’s attorney was accused of doing political work on county time. Another accused Bianchi of giving preferential treatment to politically connected defendants.
Bianchi was acquitted in 2010 and again in 2011, both times before the defense called a single witness.
In the case against McQueen, Ekl alleges that McQueen knowingly failed to turn over witness statements and information that could have been used in Bianchi’s defense.
As part of a federal civil rights lawsuit against McQueen and Henry Tonigan, the other special prosecutor in the Bianchi cases, about 17,000 documents were turned over to Bianchi. Most of which were emails between McQueen and investigators from computer forensics firm Quest Consultants.
Tonigan since has settled the civil rights lawsuit, agreeing to pay $157,500 but not admitting any fault.
The email chains have become the center of the case against McQueen.
Ekl claims the emails show McQueen withheld information that McGraw ordered him to provide to the defense, that he altered some investigator’s reports or made false statements to a grand jury.
McQueen’s defense attorneys argued there was an “astounding” amount of documents in the case, and those that McQueen is accused of withholding were not exculpatory.
“We believe that emails going back and forth [between McQueen and investigators] consist of work product,” said defense attorney Matt Henderson, adding that they are not subject to a Supreme Court rule requiring that they be produced to the defense.
Some of the allegations related to witnesses or evidence that the prosecution never intended to introduce during Bianchi’s trials.
Outside the courtroom, Bianchi said the matter was personal.
“We have been entrusted with a great deal of power as prosecutors, and what he did struck at the very heart and soul of the criminal justice system,” Bianchi said.
The trial is expected to wrap Thursday, and McQueen likely will testify. If found guilty, he could be sentenced to six months in jail.
The criminal contempt petition initially was brought by Bianchi as a private citizen. Ekl is prosecuting it pro bono.