Charges against Bianchi thrown out again
If the first corruption trial in March against McHenry County State's Attorney Louis Bianchi ended with a fizzle, then his misconduct trial this week ended with a whimper.
A judge Tuesday gave not guilty verdicts on two felony charges against Bianchi that he abused his discretion to lessen a prison term for a distant relative of a staff member and dismissed charges for a politically connected campaign donor.
The directed finding of not guilty came without the defense calling a witness.
"In each case, Mr. Bianchi had the case handled in an ordinary and customary way," Winnebago County Judge Joseph McGraw said. "Even if he had a duty to recuse himself, that is not a violation of law."
After the verdict, Bianchi hugged some supporters saying, "It's all over."
Others gave him an ovation, and he said his acquittal is a victory for himself and the 101 other state's attorneys across the state who handle cases on a daily basis.
"I was doing my job and I will continue to do my job," he said. "Our role is to keep the community safe and make sure it's a peaceful place to raise a family."
McGraw also acquitted Bianchi and his secretary Joyce Synek earlier this year halfway through a trial on charges he conspired to use county resources for his re-election campaign.
Defense attorney Terry Ekl argued Tuesday that prosecutors failed to show Bianchi directed his staff to drop disorderly conduct charges against Crystal Lake doctor Thomas Salvi that he made lewd comments and harassed a woman in June 2010.
The case was thrown out in August 2010 after the woman said she didn't want to testify and Salvi wrote an apology letter and sought counseling.
Ekl also blasted Special Prosecutor Thomas McQueen, who didn't try to fight Ekl's move for a not-guilty verdict on a charge that Bianchi used his influence to reduce a prison term from five to four years for Jeremy Reid, a 19-year-old from Crystal Lake who pleaded guilty to selling cocaine in a high school parking lot.
At the beginning of the trial Monday, McQueen also said he was dropping charges that Bianchi purposely held up a theft case involving his nephew so he could enroll in a new first-time offender program.
Ekl stressed that the charges against his client weren't even filed correctly, making them impossible to prove.
"It's like a kindergartner with a crayon decided to go through the rules of criminal conduct (to formulate an indictment)," Ekl said. "They can't prove squat."
McQueen argued that Bianchi knew Salvi and his family and should have recused himself from the case, which was eventually dismissed with prejudice, meaning the state can't refile it later. McQueen argued that judges recuse themselves from a case when they know the defendant, and the same standard applies to prosecutors.
"(Bianchi) had a conflict of interest, a direct conflict of interest, a clear conflict of interest," McQueen said.
Outside the courtroom, McQueen declined to comment on the outcome. He said the special grand jury, which handed up the charges against Bianchi for both cases, was still empaneled. He didn't comment on whether the grand jury should be disbanded in light of Tuesday's verdict.
Ekl said he and his client will be discussing whether to ask the McHenry County Board to reimburse Bianchi for his legal bills. The county board has been ordered to pay for the costs of the special prosecutors and is fighting the exact billing rate in appellate court.
So far, the county has been billed for $312,000 for work through the first trial and is disputing about $70,000 of it. McQueen and Henry Tonigan, another attorney initially appointed as special prosecutor who has since left the case, have not submitted bills for any work done for this year.
Ekl said a directed finding of not guilty is rare in a court case and virtually unprecedented in back-to-back instances. "The prosecutors literally proved nothing," he said. "These charges should have never been brought. This was not a good faith prosecution," Ekl said.