Former Lake County coroner Dr. Thomas Rudd, who is accused of lying about the validity of election petitions, pleaded not guilty Friday to five counts of perjury.
Rudd faces 2 to 5 years in prison if found guilty on all the felony counts, Judge Victoria Rossetti said during the arraignment hearing. The charges are also probationable, she said.
Rudd's trial is tentatively set for July 10. He has been released from Lake County jail after posting the required 10 percent of his $150,000 bail.
Nearly a dozen people chanted "Free Rudd" as they protested the case outside of the Lake County Government Center in Waukegan.
Rudd, who served as coroner from 2012 through 2016, said he could not comment on advice from his attorney.
Illinois appellate court prosecutor Brian Towne is handling the case because of a potential conflict of interest with the Lake County state's attorney's office.
Rudd was due to be indicted in front of Judge Daniel Shanes, but defense attorney Jed Stone filed for a substitution of judges to move the case to Rossetti. Stone would not explain the move except to say "it's his (Rudd's) right to request a different judge."
Shanes presided over the contentious Melissa Calusinski case, where Rudd publicly questioned her murder conviction for the 2009 death of a 16-month-old boy at a Lincolnshire day care center. As coroner, Rudd changed the boy's official cause of death from homicide to undetermined. He was critical of the autopsy results, and testified on Calusinski's behalf in a hearing where she sought a new trial.
Stone said the charges against Rudd are "political payback," and prosecutors should not "have brought charges in this case."
Authorities say Rudd was charged because he lied on nominating petitions while seeking re-election as a Democrat in 2016.
According to the indictment, Rudd knowingly made a false statement about the validity of his nomination petition sheets by signing and having notarized five sheets of signatures. The nomination sheets were filed with the Lake County clerk's office Nov. 21, 2015. Rudd said under oath, via the legal document, the signatures were signed in his presence and each was genuine.
Authorities said 15 to 20 signatures were proved to be false, and at least one sheet contained the signature of a person who had been dead for more than a decade.
The one-year investigation into the signatures was conducted by Lake County sheriff's detectives and the Office of Professional Standards.
Rudd initially filed to run as a Democrat in the March 2016 primary, but withdrew his nominating papers after they were challenged. At the time, Rudd said he would not have enough signatures to remain on the ballot should the objections be upheld.
Rudd later ran as a write-in candidate but lost in the November general election. Republican Howard Cooper won the election for coroner.