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updated: 8/3/2011 5:57 PM

Same questions remain after second Bianchi acquittal

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  • McHenry County State's Attorney Louis Bianchi.

       McHenry County State's Attorney Louis Bianchi.
    Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

 
 

There was some similarity to the movie "Groundhog Day" this week in Woodstock when McHenry County State's Attorney Louis Bianchi was acquitted halfway through a trial without having to call a single defense witness.

The same thing happened in March, when Bianchi was found not guilty of accusations he used county resources and personnel to bolster his re-election campaign.

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This week, Bianchi was exonerated of charges he gave preferential treatment in criminal cases involving a politically connected doctor and a distant relative of a staff member.

The criminal cases may be over, but wrangling over legal fees submitted by special prosecutors Henry Tonigan and Thomas McQueen is ongoing -- just like it was in March.

And some people are questioning how the matter got this far, especially with both cases stopped mid-trial and essentially thrown out because of a lack of any evidence.

"There is a sense between dismay and outrage that Lou had to go through all this," McHenry County Board member Donna Kurtz said. "He was doing his job. I think that is really important here. The state's attorney has to have latitude to make the proper decisions without the fear of being prosecuted."

County board member Nick Provenzano said the matter was clearly in the hands of Tonigan and McQueen.

"They kept going and kept going and kept going," Provenzano said. "They doubled down and moved forward again. One has to wonder if there were outside influences that caused them to move forward."

McQueen declined to comment Tuesday and a message left with Tonigan, who did not participate in the trial, was not returned.

Judge Gordon Graham, who in late 2009 appointed Tonigan to investigate corruption claims made by Bianchi's former secretary Amy Dalby, also expanded a special grand jury's scope to include other cases handled by Bianchi while in elected office.

Bianchi has not yet said whether he will ask the county to reimburse him for his personal legal expenses. Provenzano said Bianchi may be entitled to reimbursement under state law because he was accused of wrongdoing in his official county capacity.

County officials say the $312,000 that's been billed so far by Tonigan and McQueen only includes work done through mid-November 2010. The county is fighting to have the $250-per-hour rates charged by Tonigan and McQueen adjusted downward and the matter is in appellate court.

Provenzano expects the county to prevail in court and he also expects the remaining bills to be submitted by special prosecutors soon. Provenzano said prosecutors withheld detailed, current bills because they didn't want to give away their legal strategy but now both cases are over.

"What we have to do is look at the bills and scrutinize them because we are the taxpayers' representative," Kurtz added.

In delivering his verdict this week, Winnebago County Judge Joseph McGraw said some of the allegations leveled against Bianchi in the second case, especially those dealing with Rules of Professional Conduct, could have been better addressed by the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.

Bianchi does not have any past or pending disciplinary proceedings against him, said Susan Scorzo, a paralegal at the ARDC.

She said complaints filed with the ARDC are confidential by law, but if they are determined to be valid, the ARDC moves forward with disciplinary proceedings.

Scorzo said there is no statute of limitations for someone to file a complaint with the ARDC against an attorney.

Finally, the 18-month special grand jury that was initially empaneled in April 2010 to investigate claims made by Dalby, has not been disbanded. Only a judge can break up the grand jury before its term expires in September.

But Bianchi defense attorney Terry Ekl said the grand jury only may consider information brought if it is related to the two previous cases against Bianchi and both cases have been adjudicated.

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