Two Kane County Board members are calling for a state's attorney's criminal investigation into more than 1,000 DUI convictions they say went unreported to the state under former Circuit Court Clerk Deb Seyller. But court records and interviews indicate Seyller had informed the board and the public about the basics of the situation years ago.
Board members Mark Davoust and Mike Kenyon served as chairmen of the county board's Judicial and Public Safety Committee during the final years of Seyller's tenure. Seyller reported monthly to the committee during meetings that eventually set the stage for the lawsuit over the proper funding of her office. A letter Davoust and Kenyon wrote Thursday said new Circuit Court Clerk Tom Hartwell has found 1,393 DUI convictions between 2005 and 2008 were not properly reported to the Illinois secretary of state's office. That's resulted, at a minimum, in major delays in revoking licenses and processing suspensions.
"Even now, these matters must be resolved and reported to the Illinois Secretary of State," the letter reads. "We join together in asking you to immediately investigate these claims to determine what action, if any, is required in order to remedy this situation. We further ask that you investigate whether any actions herein warrant further criminal investigation."
That investigation may begin with county board meeting minutes and the transcripts of the case proceedings and depositions involved with the lawsuit between Seyller and the county.
The crux of that disagreement was Seyller's belief that the county board did not give her office enough money to reach adequate staffing levels, putting her in jeopardy of failing to fulfill the legal mandates of her office.
Documents from the lawsuit available on the Internet show Seyller acknowledged in court that she had not received notices from any agencies (including the secretary of state's office) that she was not fulfilling her mandates.
"The clerk noted that, before she hired additional staff, her office was seven weeks behind in processing 'SDU' payments; her office was not timely refunding bond, restitution, or child support money that had been unclaimed (she had received complaints); and her office was not reporting DUI dispositions in a timely fashion," reads the online case summary. "According to the clerk, she shared this information with the county as part of her resolution. Although the clerk alleged that she could not meet her mandates, the trial court found that the record did not support that conclusion because there was no evidence that the clerk had received any notices of failure to meet mandates."
Ken Shepro was one of the attorneys fighting against Seyller during the lawsuit. He said he clearly recalls Seyller raising the issue of the DUIs during both the lawsuit and budget battles. But both then and now, it didn't seem to be anything more than part of a larger problem in the office, Shepro said.
"You never could pin her down as to what she was doing in that office," Shepro said. "At one point she did, at a meeting, say if we didn't give her more money, people, etc., that she wouldn't be able to perform her mandates. So someone said, give me an example, and she did, in fact, say, 'Well, we are supposed to report these DUIs, but we have to do this by hand.' "
Shepro said Seyller, at the time, raised her hand about 18 inches off the table in front of her to indicate the size of the DUI backlog.
"But nobody really asked any more about it because it was kind of typical that she would stonewall everyone on details," Shepro said. "Now it seems to be that it was a problem with the computer; it wasn't a personnel problem."
The county is in the middle of researching and implementing what some estimates have forecast to be a $12.6 million computer system upgrade throughout the county's judicial system. The circuit court clerk's office is a major part of that upgrade, but other offices, including the court services and probation department, have openly lamented the need to count some records by hand because the current system can't create accurate reports.
Shepro also said he believes former Kane County State's Attorney John Barsanti, who is now a judge, confronted Seyller about her DUI claims at one point. Barsanti said Friday he couldn't recall whether he'd ever had such a conversation.
"I remember, vaguely, something about this," Barsanti said. "But I don't remember (the size of the backlog) being that much. I don't remember it being that pervasive. If it was, that would be concerning."
Barsanti said the main problem with unreported DUI convictions, from a prosecution standpoint, is the driving records of people with subsequent DUIs wouldn't be accurate. That means, in some plea bargains, some people with multiple DUIs may have been given supervision when they should have received a more harsh punishment.
That's exactly the sort of thing Davoust said he wants State's Attorney Joe McMahon to investigate.
"God forbid we find out that someone who shouldn't have had a license went out and did something that harmed someone," Davoust said.
Seyller did not immediately respond to an interview request Friday.