Bianchi pledges to remain in office, but obstacles remain
In the wake of an indictment Friday on state corruption charges, McHenry County State's Attorney Louis Bianchi said through an attorney he has no intention of stepping down from office.
Whether he has a choice in the matter remains to be seen.
A grand jury Friday returned a 21-count felony indictment accusing Bianchi of using county employees, equipment and funds for political purposes, ranging from tracking campaign donor lists on office computers to sending employees to political events during work hours.
Bianchi, a 67-year-old Republican from Crystal Lake, denied the charges in a written statement and said he would vigorously defend himself. His attorney, Terry Ekl, said Bianchi will continue serving as state's attorney while the case is pending.
State law does not preclude someone facing felony charges from practicing law, said James Grogan, deputy administrator and chief counsel for the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission. The agency, which is in charge of investigating complaints and claims of wrongdoing against attorneys, monitors criminal cases against lawyers, but typically will not act until there is a conviction, he said.
"If the lawyer is sentenced and convicted, we will go to the Supreme Court and ask for an interim suspension until the court can make a final decision," Grogan said.
Only in cases in which continuing to practice law would cause public harm would the ARDC act to revoke or suspend a license before a conviction, he added.
If Bianchi remains in office, however, it might raise a plethora of conflict of interest issues that could lead a McHenry County judge to remove him from state's attorney cases, legal sources said.
Those issues include whether Bianchi could supervise the legal work of the four assistant state's attorneys who have been named as witnesses in the investigation that led to his indictment. Another issue is whether Bianchi could represent the state of Illinois as a prosecutor while, at the same time being prosecuted by the state on corruption charges.
There also is the question of whether Bianchi could devote his full attention to running the state's attorney's office while preparing to defend himself against felony charges punishable by up to five years in prison.
State Rep. Mike Tryon, who chairs the McHenry County Republican Party, said that might be difficult, but he believes the decision should rest with Bianchi.
"I believe he has to focus on his defense, as anyone would, but that is something he will have to determine," Tryon said.
If Bianchi is removed or steps down before Dec. 1, 2011, McHenry County Board Chairman Ken Koehler would choose a successor with approval from the full county board. After that date, the chief judge of McHenry County's judicial circuit - currently Judge Michael Sullivan - would appoint a replacement.