The McHenry County Board has approved a settlement that pays a portion of the legal fees that McHenry County State's Attorney Louis Bianchi and his assistant Joyce Synek incurred when they were fighting to clear their names in court.
On Tuesday morning the board agreed by a vote of 18-3 to pay $275,000 by next Friday to Terry Ekl and Ernest DiBenedetto, the attorneys who represented Bianchi and Synek in court -- Ekl estimated that the legal fees total nearly $600,000.
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In return, the attorneys and their clients have agreed not to sue the county for the remainder of the legal fees. Moreover, if Bianchi and Synek or their attorneys sue the special prosecutors who investigated them and win, they will give any award they receive to the county.
Ekl declined to discuss whether he plans to sue the special prosecutors.
"This was just a situation where it was trying to make justice out of injustice and secondly and just as importantly it's an overall approach to manage the risk associated with further damages that potentially could be presented to us," said McHenry County Board Member Donna Kurtz, who voted in favor of the deal. "This to me seemed like a balanced approach to addressing a difficult problem."
Board members Paula Yensen, Kathleen Bergen-Schmidt and Mark Munaretto voted against the settlement. John Hammerand and Randall Donley were absent.
The county had researched whether the state's attorney's legal insurance would pay the fees but found out that it would not, because it doesn't cover criminal cases, County Administrator Peter Austin said. The $275,000 will come out of the county's tort liability fund, which now stands at about $3 million, he said.
In the end, settlement proceedings began in August and Ekl said both sides were reasonable and fair.
"The county negotiated and handled this in good faith and I think that we recognized that the county was put in a difficult position here because they didn't ask for this," Ekl said.
Last summer, 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.
Last March, Bianchi and Synek were found not guilty of a combined 26 charges of conspiracy, misconduct and obstruction of justice, on allegations that the pair used Bianchi's office personnel and county resources to further his re-election campaign in 2008.
Judge Gordon Graham, who in late 2009 appointed special prosecutors Henry Tonigan and Thomas McQueen 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 office.
Meanwhile, the county is fighting to have reduced the $250-per-hour rates that Tonigan and McQueen charged the county. The next hearing on that matter is scheduled for Jan. 12.