Judge allows case to remove Algonquin Twp. trustee to move forward
A case that will decide whether an Algonquin Township trustee with a 30-year-old felony can stay in his role will move forward after a McHenry County judge denied a request to dismiss the suit on Thursday.
Judge Joel D. Berg on Thursday said while state election code does not state that the specific crime Trustee Ed Zimel committed in 1990 precludes him from holding office, Illinois township code is more wide-ranging than the election statutes, meriting a deeper look into the case.
"What a magnificent issue. I mean, it's a very complex issue," Berg said. "The township code is different than the election code. And it's clearly different."
Zimel was convicted in 1990 of felony intimidation in Cook County and sentenced to three months of home confinement and 30 months of court supervision.
Hhe was elected to his current trustee position in April 2021 and before that served on the Hanover Park village board from 2009 to 2015. He resigned for a move out of the community.
State election code holds that a person becomes ineligible for office if they have been convicted of an "infamous crime," which both sides on Thursday agreed did not include intimidation.
However, an Illinois township code provision states that a person is ineligible to hold office if they have "been convicted in any court located in the United States of any infamous crime, bribery, perjury or other felony."
That last clause -- "or other felony" -- was what attorney Andrew Hamilton with the McHenry County State's Attorney's Office pointed to on Thursday.
"The statute is extremely clear," Hamilton said. "The statute clearly says, 'or other felony.' Mr. Zimel has been convicted of a felony."
Zimel's attorney, John Nelson, argued Thursday that previous lawsuits brought in Illinois don't include intimidation as a crime that can keep someone out of office. He also argued that based on how the law is written, the bar to be a trustee for a township is higher than other offices, which he didn't think was the intent of the law.
"It just seems wrong … it's harder to be a township trustee than a school board member or anything else? It's just … unfair."
Nelson in the past has called the case a "hatchet job" and has argued that the time to dispute someone's candidacy is during the objection period, which allows people to object to candidates before they are placed on the ballot.
On Thursday, Berg disputed that, saying based on that opinion, voters should be expected to do nationwide background checks on all their candidates.
"Your position is, if nobody bothered doing their nationwide background check on every single candidate, ... well, then, [the candidate] could be Charles Manson ... and once elected, nobody could do anything about it?" Berg said.
The case was filed in August, but questions surrounding Zimel date back before that.
In June 2021, Norman Vinton, chief of the civil division at the McHenry County State's Attorney's Office, sent a letter to Zimel informing him he should resign if he was convicted of a felony.
Zimel did not respond to the letter or resign at the time. Vinton said last year that Algonquin Township's attorney, Michael Cortina, had informed the state's attorney's Office of the conviction.
In July, Nelson was hired by the township to represent the trustees in ongoing legal disputes.
The case will resume on March 1 for a status check, court records show.