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Article updated: 1/19/2012 10:36 AM

Bianchi fires back, sues special prosecutors for $15 million

By Harry Hitzeman

In the months leading up to an August 2011 misconduct trial of McHenry County State's Attorney Louis Bianchi, defense attorney Terry Ekl called on the two special prosecutors to drop the charges.

After all, Ekl reasoned, his client was acquitted halfway through a trial in March 2011 without having to call a single defense witness because of a lack of evidence.

The August trial also ended in a directed finding of not guilty -- again with Bianchi not having to call any defense witness.

Wednesday, Bianchi and other defendants in those cases fired back at the special prosecutors Henry Tonigan and Thomas McQueen with a federal lawsuit accusing them and investigators at a computer forensic firm of conspiracy, malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress, unreasonable search and seizure and violation of due process.

The suit seeks $15 million in damages, along with attorney fees.

"It wasn't a good faith prosecution that just so happened to go bad," Ekl said. "The behavior and conduct of these special prosecutors was so egregious and unfounded, it caused Lou to suffer violations of constitutional rights that no one should have to suffer."

Ekl's 47-page civil rights lawsuit outlines a "politically and financially motivated conspiracy" against Bianchi, along with secretary Joyce Synek and two investigators in Bianchi's office, Ron Salgado and Michael McCleary.

Synek was acquitted in March 2011 and Salgado and McCleary were charged with misconduct but the charges dismissed before Bianchi's second trial in August.

Calls to Tonigan, a former chief judge in Lake County, and McQueen, a former U.S. prosecutor, were not immediately returned. Daniel Jerger, an investigator for Quest Consultants, also did not return a message.

"The investigations and prosecutions were the product of a conspiracy, initiated by Bianchi's political enemies, to remove Bianchi from office by fabricating false criminal charges and prosecuting Bianchi and his employees for criminal offenses despite the lack of probably cause or credible evidence," read the lawsuit.

"The objective of the conspiracy was to arrest, indict, and publicly smear Bianchi, thereby causing him to resign his office, irreparably tarnish his public reputation and all his political opponents to install a State's Attorney who would do their bidding," the suit also stated. "The conspiracy crumbled when Bianchi resisted pressure to resign from political office and instead proceeded to trial."

Bianchi's first trial in March, in which he and Synek were accused of using county resources in order to further his re-election campaign, was sparked after Bianchi's former secretary Amy Dalby went to authorities with her concerns that she was being forced to do campaign work on county time.

That trial ended when Judge Joseph McGraw ruled that even if the prosecution's evidence was viewed in the most favorable light possible, it was still insufficient for the trial to continue.

The second trial, in which Bianchi was accused of using his power and influence to lessen penalties or dismiss charges against distant relatives and politically connected defendants, also was ended halfway through by McGraw due to lack of evidence.

In the lead-up to both those cases, Ekl unsuccessfully tried to have the charges dismissed, arguing that Tonigan and McQueen misled a grand jury to indict Bianchi and others and expanded the investigation beyond Dalby's initial claims.

Wednesday's lawsuit repeats some of those same arguments, while stating the $250 per hour fees charged by Tonigan, McQueen and Jerger were excessive.

While Wednesday's filing launched a new round of litigation in the case, the issue of who will pay the legal bills and how much they will be is drawing to close.

Earlier this month, the McHenry County Board agreed to pay $275,000 of Bianchi and Synek's legal bills.

The pair also agreed that if the pair sued the special prosecutors and won, they would give $275,00 to the county.

Judge Gordon Graham also is expected to rule Jan. 26 on a move by the county to reduce the legal fees charged by Tonigan, McQueen and Quest, which have billed the county $604,050.

The county charges that the bills are inflated and wants to pay $249,831.

So far, $242,399 has been paid out by the county to prosecute the case.

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