For now at least, Kane County taxpayers won't be footing the bill for Coroner Chuck West's defense against criminal charges of official misconduct.
Judge T. Jordan Gallagher denied West's request to have his defense attorney, Gary Johnson, appointed as a special state's attorney.
Gallagher said that it was "fairly clear" from reading case law cited by the county's attorney that "if a public official is convicted, he is not entitled to public reimbursement. Until the case is resolved, this might be premature."
West is free to ask for reimbursement later, after the case has been heard.
West's next court date is Aug. 6, when he is due to be arraigned.
Johnson argued that the county should appoint him as a special state's attorney and pay for him because Kane County State's Attorney John Barsanti has a statutory duty to defend public officials in cases related to their actions as public officials. Barsanti has said he has a conflict of interest, because his office also prosecutes crimes for the state.
The county's attorney, David J. O'Connor, said having taxpayer money pay for the defense of public official facing a criminal charge "shields him from the consequences of his conduct." And the fact that Barsanti has removed himself due to a conflict of interest "does not automatically equate into the appointment" of a special attorney for the defense, he said; it does not prevent West from being assisted by counsel.
The attorney arguing the billing on behalf of the county board has been appointed a special state's attorney, and the prosecution is being handled by an appellate prosecutor.
West said Friday's decision does not affect his decision to fight the charges.
He was indicted in May on five counts of official misconduct, a Class 4 felony. He is accused of removing a television set from a dead man's house in Carpentersville three years ago. Sources have told the Daily Herald he allowed two deputy coroners who live together to keep it in their home; one of those deputies is his son.
West contends he had no room to store the 24-inch television at the coroner's office, and so stored it at the employees' home.
He faces probation or two to five years in prison if convicted.
The 67-year-old West could be sentenced to probation or two to five years in prison if convicted. He is free on personal recognizance.