The death of a 21-year-old Mount Prospect man after a run-in with a nephew of former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley has become an issue in the race for Cook County state's attorney
Republican challenger Lori Yokoyama, 57, a Chicago attorney specializing in civil litigation, criticized incumbent Anita Alvarez's handling of the case and for declining to defend Illinois' ban on same-sex marriage.
Alvarez, 52, a River Forest Democrat seeking her second term as Cook County state's attorney, defended her actions in the investigation into the 2004 death of Harper College student David Koschman, pointing out that she was not in office at the time of his death or the original police investigation.
Regarding same-sex marriage, Alvarez said she believes the ban is unconstitutional and will not defend the county, which has been sued for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.
Yokoyama's criticism of Alvarez stems in part from the investigation into the death of Koschman, who was injured outside a Chicago bar during the early morning of April 25, 2004, in an altercation involving Richard J. "R.J." Vanecko, nephew of Chicago's former mayor. Someone pushed or punched Koschman, who fell back and struck his head on a curb. He died about two weeks later from brain injuries.
Last year, police determined Vanecko threw the punch but said he acted in self-defense and closed the case without filing charges.
After a Chicago newspaper raised questions about the case in early 2011, Alvarez wrote Patrick Keen, interim director of the Illinois State Police, requesting an independent investigation. Keen responded the state police was not the appropriate agency to conduct such an investigation.
Alvarez then turned the case over to Chicago Inspector General Joseph Ferguson, who continues to investigate with the cooperation of the state's attorney's office, an Alvarez spokeswoman said. Cook County Judge Michael Toomin appointed a special prosecutor to look into the case in April 2011.
"We did nothing underhanded," Alvarez said, adding that her office has "been cooperating with special prosecutor Dan Webb and will continue to do so."
Acknowledging that Alvarez was not in charge of the office in 2004, Yokoyama said "the request to reopen the case happened on her watch." It was Toomin, not Alvarez, who ordered a special prosecutor to look into the matter, Yokoyama pointed out.
Yokoyama says the office has become more politicized under Alvarez, who denies that.
"I don't believe politics plays any role in my office other than me having to run for office," Alvarez said. "I run this office with integrity."
Yokoyama points to a decision by Alvarez -- who represents Cook County elected officials facing civil suits related to their official duties -- not to defend lawsuits filed by same-sex couples who said Cook County Clerk David Orr violated their constitutional rights when his office declined to issue them marriage licenses. Yokoyama blasted Alvarez's decision in a Daily Herald interview, insisting her "job is to defend it."
"The Cook County state's attorney is a prosecutor, not a legislator nor a judge. The determination of whether a law is or is not constitutional is not within her purview," Yokoyama wrote in her candidate questionnaire.
Alvarez responded via email that in her legal opinion, not issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples violates the Illinois Constitution's equal protection and due process clauses and is therefore unconstitutional.
Alvarez has stated that she believes the Illinois Supreme Court will eventually decide the issue.