Fittest loser
Article updated: 3/6/2013 5:21 AM

Two years later, tables turned in Bianchi misconduct case

McHenry County State’s Attorney Louis Bianchi, center, shakes hands with his defense attorney, Terry Ekl, after being acquitted in March 2011 for 21 felony charges as Bianchi’s wife, Jean, looks on.

McHenry County State's Attorney Louis Bianchi, center, shakes hands with his defense attorney, Terry Ekl, after being acquitted in March 2011 for 21 felony charges as Bianchi's wife, Jean, looks on.

 

Photos by Harry Hitzeman | Staff Photographer

Special prosecutors Thomas McQueen, left, and Henry Tonigan announce more misconduct charges against McHenry County State’s Attorney Louis Bianchi and two of his assistants in early 2011 in Woodstock. Bianchi was acquitted of these allegations in August 2011.

Special prosecutors Thomas McQueen, left, and Henry Tonigan announce more misconduct charges against McHenry County State's Attorney Louis Bianchi and two of his assistants in early 2011 in Woodstock. Bianchi was acquitted of these allegations in August 2011.

 
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Two years ago, McHenry County State's Attorney Louis Bianchi was acquitted in the first of two misconduct trials.

Now, Bianchi defense attorney Terry Ekl has been appointed to prosecute a contempt of court case against Thomas McQueen, one of two lawyers appointed as special prosecutors against Bianchi.

The ironic change of fortune is a result of court procedures that give a judge one of three choices in appointing a prosecutor for a contempt of court case: The attorney who filed the contempt petition, a third party friend of the court, or a prosecutor from the state's attorney's office.

"Now the tables are completely turned," Ekl said. "Lou Bianchi's attorney is now prosecuting McQueen."

Ekl was appointed by Winnebago County Judge Joseph McGraw to handle the contempt case against McQueen and investigators from a computer forensic firm, Quest Consultants.

Bianchi, a Woodstock Republican, was indicted in September 2010 on felony charges he used public resources and staff time to further his re-election efforts and then tried to cover it up.

He, along with his personal secretary Joyce Synek, were acquitted in March 2011 after McGraw, who was brought in to hear the case, ruled there was insufficient evidence to continue.

Bianchi also was acquitted halfway through an August 2011 trial in which he was accused of using his influence to cut deals in criminal cases involving a distant relative and someone politically connected to him.

Bianchi filed a $15 million civil rights lawsuit against McQueen, Quest and Henry Tonigan, who was the other special prosecutor. This case is next due in federal court on April 11.

Ekl's contempt of court petition against McQueen also includes two Quest investigators, Robert Scigalski and Patrick Hanretty.

In Bianchi's first trial, prosecutors argued that Bianchi and Synek tried to hide or erase information on Synek's computer. But Ekl said emails show that McHenry County computer officials determined a virus wiped out the information, and that McQueen knew about this and moved forward anyway.

"I never thought I'd have such clear and convincing evidence (of a political witch hunt)," Ekl said. "It wasn't anybody being incompetent. There's a sinister motive here."

McQueen has declined to comment on the case. His attorney, Matthew Henderson, also declined to comment.

Scigalski and Hanretty also have filed a motion to arguing that McGraw should recuse himself as the judge in the case.

According to the motion, Hanretty and Scigalski did a background check on McGraw to reveal "sensitive financial and personal information."

The motion says they purposely leaked information to a blogger, who wrote an article suggesting McGraw had a conflict of interest in the case. Because of the leak and the article, Hanretty and Scigalski's attorney believe a different judge should hear the case.

"The inherent effect of these allegations is to necessarily embroil Judge McGraw so personally in this controversy that his judgment can reasonably be questioned," read part of the motion. Roger Weber, an attorney representing Scigalski and Hanretty, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Ekl called the motion "preposterous."

"I've never seen anything like this," he added. "Absolutely unbelievable. I don't even know what I can say. It's astounding."

All sides in the contempt of court case are next due in Rockford court on March 13.

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