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Our View: Bianchi needs thicker skin

Published: Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

When your state’s attorney is in the headlines, you hope it’s because of cases his office successfully has prosecuted or actions it has taken to fight crime.

In McHenry County, however, State’s Attorney Lou Bianchi is in the headlines for litigation that involves himself.

In the past week, Bianchi has been in the news regarding criminal contempt allegations against a special prosecutor and for suing an anonymous commenter on a local blog. These cases are in addition to being part of a lawsuit against School District 155 and its bleachers expansion at Crystal Lake South High School.

In federal court, Bianchi defense attorney turned prosecutor, Terry Ekl, was seeking to hold Thomas McQueen in criminal contempt, alleging that McQueen withheld discovery materials that would have been beneficial to Bianchi’s defense in two corruption trials. McQueen was appointed as special prosecutor in those trials. Bianchi was acquitted before presenting a defense.

McQueen was acquitted Friday, but received a tongue-lashing from Winnebago County Judge Joseph McGraw, who said he believed McQueen ignored his legal duty by withholding emails and witness statements from the Bianchi prosecution. However, McGraw ruled that there was not proof beyond a reasonable doubt that McQueen had willfully violated court orders.

We supported an initial probe into allegations from Bianchi’s former secretary, who provided testimony that Bianchi was requiring employees to perform campaign work. The activity probably should have stopped there, and McHenry County Judge Gordon Graham certainly should not have authorized allowing the special prosecutors to expand their scope resulting in another ill-conceived indictment that was thrown out at trial.

Nobody was perfect in this mess. Taxpayers’ money was wasted in this ordeal. Thankfully, it’s over.

Just starting, however, is Bianchi’s search into finding out the identity of “Fukoku Kyohei.” As a private citizen, Bianchi has filed a civil rights lawsuit against “John Doe” alleging defamation and seeking damages.

Bianchi says anonymous comments posted on a local blog were intended to “defame, discredit and disparage” his reputation. The poster accused Bianchi of arranging plea deals for politically connected defendants, embezzling taxpayer funds and other criminal activity. Fukoku Kyohei often refers to Bianchi as “Mr. Corruption.”

We won’t speculate here on the rumblings that Bianchi’s lawsuit is politically motivated in advance of March’s primary for McHenry County Sheriff. Bianchi – as an elected official – should have thicker skin in regards to public criticism. We will acknowledge, however, that anonymous commenters should be more responsible with their allegations.

The lawsuit could be considered a SLAPP – strategic lawsuits against public participation. SLAPP lawsuits intend to silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense.

We expect our elected officials to have a little more fortitude when it comes public criticism. It is part of the job, and everybody should understand that before seeking office.

Bianchi surely knows that.

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