WOODSTOCK – Former McHenry County Coroner Marlene Lantz’s duty to bury two unclaimed fetuses was not mandatory, a judge ruled Friday.
Lantz, 68, was indicted in 2015 on two counts of official misconduct and one count of forgery after she allegedly failed to properly dispose of two fetuses that prosecutors have said were kept in the coroner’s officer for more than two decades.
Prosecutors have argued that Lantz should have buried the remains, cremated them or donated them to science.
McHenry County Judge Robert Wilbrandt said in his written decision that because he believed the county coroner’s duty was directory and not mandatory, the official misconduct charges must be dismissed because Lantz did not fail to perform a “mandatory duty” as charged in the indictment.
A mandatory duty is required to be carried out in a “strict and timely”
manner. Failure to perform a mandatory duty could result in criminal liability. A directory duty means the coroner was given discretion and there was no imposed time limits to determine how long the process of identification, notification and waiting for relatives’ decisions should take.
Whether this was a mandatory or directory duty was one of the issues brought up by Jim Harrison, Lantz’s attorney, in his previous motion to dismiss the misconduct charges against his client.
Harrison said the coroner had no duty at all to bury unclaimed human remains, as relatives of the deceased could be legally forced to do so.
Combs argued that despite having a 20-year window of opportunity to arrange for the burial, Lantz ignored her mandatory obligation, according to his motion.
“It is absurd to suggest that this duty was discretionary and that the former coroner could simply choose to refuse to bury the dead and collect corpses in a cooler without consequence,” Combs said in his motion.
Wilbrandt said he would not rule on issues concerning the statute of limitations as it does not directly relate to the defendant’s motion to dismiss the misconduct charges.
Harrison also argued that prosecutorial misconduct was committed before the grand jury. Wilbrandt twice dismissed Harrison’s argument of prosecutorial misconduct, saying the defense’s interpretation of Illinois statute is “erroneous.”
Combs said he was unsure if the state’s attorney’s office would file a motion to reconsider Wilbrandt’s decision.
The forgery charge alleged against Lantz will proceed to trial Oct. 24.
“We are confident that once the facts come out, people will understand exactly what happened and the case will be dismissed,” Harrison said following Wilbrandt’s decision.
Wilbrandt said even though he ruled to dismiss the misconduct charges, the court does not condone any of the alleged conduct. He said these charges, if proven, would reflect at least “poor management and extraordinary negligence” on the former staff and office of the McHenry County coroner.